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3 Ways to Market and Sell Solar Storage More Successfully

Posted by Bogdan Zlatkov on Sep 17, 2020 3:06:34 PM

Battery storage is becoming increasingly popular, and while most installers offer storage as part of their solar solutions, many don’t have a clear process for how to quote and sell storage.

In Greentech Media’s recent webinar, “How to Grow Your Solar Business with Storage (Backed by Data),” solar experts from Generac and Aurora Solar shared their tips on how installers can successfully pitch storage to bring in more revenue.

In this post, we’ll cover the three key steps that were discussed in the webinar and show you how to position storage to prospective customers.

You can also watch the full storage webinar on-demand here.

Step #1: Sell Peace of Mind

According to Aurora’s research, the primary motivator for purchasing battery storage is “peace of mind.” However, what we’ve found is that “peace of mind” means different things to different buyers.

That’s why it’s crucial to identify exactly what your specific customer needs before you try to sell them on storage as a solution. There are three main motivating factors that equal “peace of mind:”

  1. Energy Resilience
  2. Personal Safety and Wellbeing
  3. Local Emergencies and Disasters

It’s important to tailor your messaging to whichever of these three motivating factors resonates with your specific customer. Here’s how:

Energy Resilience
Many homeowners today work from home due to COVID-19. In fact, 42% of the US labor force now work from home full time. This trend has effectively made our homes into offices, schools, and daycare centers. 

As a result, we rely on our home’s power now more than ever before. Leading solar installers are using this trend to pitch storage as a way to boost energy resilience. Here’s an example of how Sunrun positions their solution in their marketing accordingly:

solar storage marketing example 1


Personal Safety and Wellbeing
For some people, having access to power can be a matter of life and death. Today, many Americans need electricity for medical reasons, and having storage can make those homeowners feel safe by taking away the worry of a potential outage.

Here is an example from SunPower in which they position solar storage as a safety purchase:solar storage marketing example 2

Local Emergencies and Disasters
One of the most common reasons people buy storage is to protect themselves from disasters. Homeowners are increasingly becoming at risk for blackouts due to natural disasters. In those cases, battery storage can provide a sense of security knowing that should the grid go down, they’ll still have access to power. 

An example of a well-positioned storage message is by Ipsun Solar. In the marketing message, the solar company references local storms going on in the area and leads with the headline “Severe Thunderstorms? Get some peace of mind with Tesla Powerwall.”

solar storage marketing example 3

Step 2: Know Your Offering

When it comes to selling storage, it is crucial to be well prepared. Jeff McAndrew, Director of Sales from Generac, shared some advice during the webinar on how to confidently pitch storage to homeowners and not be caught off guard when they ask questions about the product. 

He suggests doing your research not just on the product – its features, advantages, and benefits – but also on the prospect. 

If, for example, the customer has mentioned that they want a reliable manufacturer, bringing up the history of the company, the number of homes this brand is backing up across the country as well as any awards or accolades can be highly beneficial. Emphasising this, in addition to local rebates and incentives, will usually build the trust needed to close the sale.

Step 3: Streamline Your Sales Process

Despite the increase in demand for storage, many installers are still struggling to find an efficient process for selling solar + storage. There’s no standard approach in the industry today, and installers often have to use multiple tools to create a single proposal, sometimes even having to pay for additional software just to close a sale. 

As a response to these challenges that installers face, Aurora has added a dedicated battery storage feature to their platform. The new storage feature allows users to analyze load offset, calculate the overall system price (solar + storage), and make battery sizing recommendations from one of the largest battery and inverter databases in the industry. 

The tool also makes it easy to create a custom proposal with accurate backup sizing based on what the customer needs. It has a built-in backup calculator that shows you – in real time – the battery system price and size of batteries needed for the customer, allowing you to scale up and down for the client based on what they prefer and what their budget is.

You can learn more about Aurora Solar’s battery storage feature here and sign up for early access

Topics: Solar Sales

How to Unlock More Remote Sales Opportunities According to Remote Sales Expert J.P. Gerken

Posted by Allison Ruedig on Sep 10, 2020 11:28:25 AM

COVID-19 public health precautions have limited the door knocking and home sales presentations that many solar companies relied on until 2020. The good news is that, although many customers’ doors have (literally) closed to in-person visits, remote solar sales technology has opened a lucrative window for installers. 

Remote sales is a relatively new area for many installers, so we decided to bring in J.P. Gerken, founder of the remote sales giant Zenernet Solar, to answer some of your most common questions.

Here are the biggest takeaways that he’s learned from the past 20+ years doing remote solar sales. You can also watch his full session, “Unlocking the Remote Sales Opportunity,” from Aurora’s Empower2020 Virtual Summit:

How And Why Have Remote Solar Sales Grown? 

There are three major reasons that remote solar sales have exploded in the last year. Firstly, many customers now prefer remote meetings to in-person presentations simply for the safety aspect of remote meetings during the pandemic. 

The pandemic has also made the general public more comfortable with video conferencing than before. For example, Zoom now has nearly 175 million monthly users (up from only 14 million in April 2020).

Lastly, installers who are trying remote sales for the first time are finding that remote customers may actually be more dependable than in-person customers. J.P. said that he’s seen remote sales processes result in significantly lower cancellation rates than in-person solar sales. 

How is the remote solar sales process different from in-person sales?

J.P. said that installers should expect a longer sales cycle for remote sales. Unlike an in-person presentation, energy consultants usually won’t close the sale on the first Zoom call with a customer. 

This is partly because most remote customers have already done solar research and want detailed answers to their questions – more than can take place in a single online meeting. This desire to explore their options also means that, unlike most in-person buyers, remote customers comparison-shop by seeking multiple solar quotes. 

Since these customers are more informed than in-person customers, they benefit from a slightly different approach. To learn more on how to reach and nurture these digitally informed customers, you can watch Hayley Sonntag’s advice from the Empower2020 session “Lead Generation: From Door Knocking to Digital”.

How can I build an effective remote solar sales process?

Since remote sales is new to many solar installers, J.P. gave four main tips on how to create and refine a successful sales process:

1. “Speed to Lead” Matters

J.P. noted that Zenernet Solar has closed with many remote customers simply because it’s been the first company to get in contact and provide them with a detailed proposal and quote. 

He attributes this to Zenernet’s investments in technology, such as Aurora Solar’s solar design and financial software, that allows energy consultants to contact, quote, and educate customers before their competitors do.

2. Focus on High-Intent Customers

For more value per lead, reach out to prospects who have already expressed interest in solar. A strong inbound marketing strategy will go far in attracting the right remote customers. 

3. Educate Them 

These customers are eager to learn about their options. Encourage your team to give them the detailed information they seek, both about going solar in general and about the reasons behind your proposal for their specific home. 

4. Get the Right People on Your Team.

Remote sales requires people that can quickly build meaningful, authentic connections with strangers over the internet. J.P highly recommends investing the time to not only find and hire sales people, but also training these people for remote sales. These investments will help ensure that all your remote customers enjoy a consistent, high-quality customer experience and provide you with future referrals. 

Done right, remote sales can boost a solar installation company’s growth tremendously. To learn more from J.P.’s 20+ years of high-performing remote sales, listen to his full Empower2020 session here: Unlocking the Remote Sales Opportunity.

Topics: Solar Sales

Getting Started with Remote Solar Sales

Posted by Sunny Wang on Mar 31, 2020 6:00:00 AM

Making the transition from meeting your customers in-person to conducting your solar sales 100% remote for the first time can seem daunting, but it can be done. Some of the most successful and fastest growing solar companies have already adopted remote sales processes. Several advantages of remote selling include increased territories, lower customer acquisition costs, zero travel, and increased appointment bookings.

To help conceptualize what it would take to make this transition, we paired Aurora Solar’s Account Executive Elliot Goldstein with Baker Electric Home Energy’s Senior Solar Energy Consultant Meital Stotland in a webinar with PV Magazine. You can tune into their discussion here, where they highlight four themes to keep in mind about remote solar sales, or continue reading for the key takeaways (and don't miss out the infographic at the end of this article).

Set up a Sales Process for Remote Selling

There are some in-person sales processes that also apply to remote selling, e.g., having a strong inbound lead funnel and a system that allows you to quickly respond to leads and book appointments. The key difference with remote sales is that you’re selling without any physical presence.

The first process to set up is what you’ll be using to replace your physical presence in a customer’s home. The best solution is video conferencing with the ability to share your computer screen. After you’ve selected a platform you’re most comfortable with, Meital Stotland recommended as practice, to find the least tech savvy person you know and walk them through how to set it up over the phone.

Once a remote appointment is booked, Meital says “preparation is vital,” just like when you’re on the ground doing field consultations, but a little different. For remote sales, before the first consultation call, here are a few good practices:

  • Get a copy of their electricity bill
  • Ask for pictures of their electrical panel to have on hand; don’t forget to share what specifically you’re looking for
  • Send an email with instructions on how to set up and use the video conference platform, and what the backup plan is if it doesn’t work

Essential Technologies

In addition to using a video conference platform, there are a couple very helpful technologies to consider for remote sales. Meital mentioned that Baker Electric Home Energy has been using Aurora for sometime now, and “it's a great tool to have when you're designing and selling remotely.” Meital shares her screen with her prospects while logged into Aurora, and co-designs their PV system with them, just as she would at the kitchen table. Elliot pointed out that having the ability to show customers Aurora’s capabilities, such as up to date imagery with NearMap, LIDAR, and energy production estimates, can help build credibility and trust with customers.

Another technology that is very useful for remote sales is an electronic signature tool. The one Baker Electric Home Energy uses is DocuSign, and Meital shared that you can easily review the agreement with customers, answer their questions, and show them where to sign remotely.

Visit our remote sale solar resource center for more resources and tools!

Adjustments to Your Sales Pitch

Elliot and Meital provided a number of tips on how to adjust your sales pitch for remote sales. For starters, since you won’t be physically present, your tone of voice will be key to conveying your energy and confidence. Make sure to use the camera. Building trust will be a little more challenging with remote sales, and allowing your customer to see you will help.

Second, write a skeleton outline of your solar consultation to help you stay focused. Take advantage of now having the ability to have notes next to you during an appointment. Elliot suggests that if you’re a sales leader, it’s a great opportunity to shadow your team members, record and share the calls that went well to help the team grow.

Lastly, with current events and stay at home orders, not everything will be perfect. It’s okay to share that you’re working from home and might get interrupted. It’s okay to be human, “give yourself a break, but still be professional, make sure you address all of their motivations and all of their objections” says Meital. Elliot added that the key here is “empathizing with the moment, people really have a lot of uncertainty that we're all processing.”

Closing the Sale

Avoid the temptation to end your call with “okay, I’ll check in with you next week.”

Ask for the sale. There’s no downsides to asking for the business. You’ll either get the sale or find out the reasons for their hesitations and know what is needed to close the sale.

It’s best not to assume that during these difficult times people don’t want to go solar. Let them make this decision. Some may have been putting off this purchase decision until they have more time to think about it and many may now just be considering it with their rising electricity bill.

Something else to keep in mind: be ready with a payment plan. Consider switching from cash to to loan or lease option plans. “I think a lot of us in the solar industry have been selling cash; the last couple of years, it's been a wonderful land of cash,” said Meital. “And now I think we need to remember what it was like to sell during the recession.”

If after addressing all their concerns, and they’re still not ready to buy, you can always ask them “how would you like me to follow up?” Meital suggested it’s a good idea to have a methodology of how you’re going to follow up, because unless they say “don’t call me, I’m not interested,” you should.

This is one of a series of activities Aurora is putting together to help share insights on the topic of remote sales. To find a wealth of resources, click here.

FINAL_RemoteSales_Infographic-1

Topics: Solar Sales, Solar Business Tips

Want to Boost Your Solar Sales in 2020?  You Better Learn to TALC

Posted by Samuel Adeyemo on Mar 12, 2020 10:30:00 AM

If you have been selling residential solar for the past few years, you have probably been taught that uncovering a customer’s pain points is the key to closing the deal. Specifically, you have likely mastered the art of turning a homeowner’s sticker shock over their utility bills and fear of losing control over the cost of their electricity, into a case for going solar. It was a simple and effective tactic: all you had to do was convince the homeowner that solar would make the pain go away, and you would walk out with your signed contract in hand.

In many cases, this message still works: Homeowners still often face the pain of high electric bills, and if you are selling solar plus storage in the right regions, they may still be reeling from the pain of persistent power outages. However, if you find that selling based on pain is no longer as effective as it used to be, you are not alone, and you should keep reading.

Solar buyers today are more savvy and more cost-conscious than ever before. “It has turned into a mature business” says Trevor Wright, Director of Sales at Semper Solaris, a SPW 2019 top 10 residential solar contractor. “For the most part [prospects] know what solar is, [and] you’ve got a much smarter buyer now. The low hanging fruit [...] most of them have already bought.”

This is a new solar market, and the competition for customers is brutal. If you manage a large team of sales reps, things are even worse - because of high employee turnover and an increasingly competitive job market for the best reps, it’s a constant struggle to keep your team happy. This is one of the reasons why sales reps are among the hardest roles to fill in the solar industry.

Source: 2019 National Solar Jobs Census.

So what do you do if you are a successful closer who is looking to maintain your edge and elevate your solar sales to the next level in 2020? Or what if you are a sales leader, trying to grow your company from tens to hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue?

From my conversations with some of the most successful sales organizations in solar, to thrive in this environment, I suggest that you ditch a sales strategy based on buyer pain, and learn instead to adopt a strategy of TALC - Teach, Ask, Listen and, of course, Close your leads.

Learn How Semper Solaris Uses Aurora to Grow & Drive Profitability. Watch our Webinar: Unlocking Modern Solar Sales: How Top Teams Use Software to Win

TEACH

Assuming you already have a qualified lead, the best first step in the sales process is to teach the homeowner about what solar means for their home. I’m not talking about rattling off generic facts about modules - they already have that information from Google (and from your competitors). I’m talking about building an engaging, interactive, educational experience - one that is tailored just for your homeowner. At Aurora, we have built a number of tools to help you deliver this experience. My personal favorites are: the Consumption Profile tool, which makes it easy to explain complex concepts like time-of-use rates, and the solar Sun Path, which helps to show which roof surfaces are getting the most sunlight. Whether you do this at the kitchen table or over the Internet, having an interactive, visual experience will make you stand out from the competitor who just sent the customer a page with some poorly placed panels and pricing.

With the Aurora Consumption Profile tool, you can create an accurate electric consumption based on your customer's electricity bill and location, then show them the impact of their pool, lighting or even their EV. 

ASK

Now that you have established yourself as a trusted advisor, don’t be afraid to ask open-ended questions to get the customer talking about themselves, their hopes in going solar, and their concerns. Start off by asking the gentler “pronoun” questions - these are questions that start with “What” or “Who”, and as you build trust, move towards the harder, interrogative questions, “Why”, “When”, or “Where”. The best sales reps ask about a customer’s objections to surface them at the beginning so they can listen to the response and address the customer’s concerns and provide satisfactory answers.

Elliot Goldstein, an Account Executive used this technique to consistently top the leaderboard at a leading solar installation company. “The goal here is to get the customer to reinforce the reasons they are making this decision (without you having to bring up pain)”, says Elliot. “For example, ask if they would be okay with the look of solar on the front of their house. What is the possibility of moving? Lean into hard questions to distinguish yourself as a trusted advisor.”

Again, it is critical that you have an interactive process in case they ask you questions that you hadn’t fully prepared for. A classic example is “I don’t like the panels on the front of the house”. An in-app simulation makes it easy to show the customer the economic effect of that decision.

Aurora's energy performance simulation makes it easy to show the customer in real-time the economic effect of any decision, such as placing panels on the front of the house.

LISTEN

When asking your questions, actively listen to what your customer is telling you. The best sales reps will pick up on pitch, tone and other cues that indicate if the customer fully understands the value solar provides, or if instead they need more time to make a big decision. How do they react when you tell them the price? Or when you ask them to compare the pros and cons of buying with cash vs. loan or lease? Make sure you truly understand all of their questions and that you answer them adequately - it costs too much money for you to get this far without you feeling confident that they are definitely buying from you.

CLOSE

An experienced solar sales rep also knows that just getting the homeowner to sign is not the finish line. After all, if you have Taught, Asked and Listened like you should have, you would think that it’s just a formality to get them to Close right there and then. However, due to the industry’s high project cancellation rates and change orders, many solar sales reps still don’t earn their commission until the system is installed and the customer is satisfied.

In my experience, the best way to avoid cancellations or change orders is to make sure that you sell to the homeowner something that they want, and something that your company can actually deliver on. This means that the homeowner feels as good about their decision after you leave as they did while you were in the home or on the call.

It also means that you haven’t created a bad design which your operations department or installer will kick back. Common mistakes sales reps make include placing solar panels over fire code setbacks, chimneys, and other design errors. Fortunately, Aurora Secure Mode makes it possible to foolproof your sales process and reduce the risk of design errors while simultaneously enabling the sales person to personalize the site design. (Quick aside - when I talk to sales leaders about giving everyone access to Aurora, I get a combination of delight and fear: everyone loves what we have built, but many are also worried about what could happen if they let their sales team access the project site models. We have you covered—our new feature, Secure Mode, lets you restrict your team from altering trees, buildings or other aspects of the site model).

Learn How to Put Secure Mode to Work for Your Organization.

CONCLUSION

2020 promises to be one of the most competitive years for solar yet. Your buyer has more information than ever before, including already knowing that solar will reduce their bills. The major question in their mind is why should they go with you. To close them, I suggest you start to TALC. It is the secret to some of the fastest growing, profitable companies in solar today, and will help you take your sales to the next level.

Topics: Solar Sales

Common Residential Solar Myths and How to Overcome Them

Posted by Allison Ruedig on Feb 6, 2020 5:04:06 PM

As a solar professional, you know that many homeowners in your area can benefit from a solar system.

Sadly, often they don’t know that.

And it’s not only lack of solar knowledge that keeps them from contacting you, responding to your outreach, or going solar.

It’s often one or more solar “facts” they assume are true:

“I can’t afford to go solar.”

“It’ll be harder to sell my home if it has solar panels.”

“The installers will drill holes in my roof—you can’t tell me that won’t damage it!”

“Sure, solar panels might start out productive, but they’ll get less efficient and need too much maintenance over time.”

“My area’s too cloudy/cold/snowy/dark for solar panels.”

Heard any of these before?

We thought so.

Of course, you already know that none of these so-called “facts” are true. On the contrary, going solar is one of the best financial moves many homeowners can make.

But it can be difficult to reassure prospective solar customers of that. After all, they’re rightfully concerned about making such a major decision for themselves and their house.

So we created this guide for solar installers to educate solar prospects on the truth behind five of the most common and harmful solar myths. Being prepared to address these misconceptions will help you allay leads’ unfounded concerns respectfully and convincingly, earning their trust and helping them to understand the many benefits of going solar.

1. Myth: “I can’t afford to go solar.”

Fact: Solar prices have dropped 70% since 2010.

This is probably the most common myth solar installers hear from concerned homeowners.

And just ten years ago, those homeowners were probably right; residential solar was often prohibitively expensive until the 2010s. But today, solar costs are lower than most people think (having dropped by 70% just since 2010).

Even though solar is much more affordable today, prospects may have heard stories of unscrupulous solar companies that have presented misleading numbers and pressured people into solar purchases that didn’t make sense for their personal financial situations.

So don’t judge solar prospects for being wary of solar’s financial benefits.

Instead, inform them about how technological innovations over the past decade have enabled reductions in both hard costs—like PV module prices— and soft costs, like solar design and installation.

And don’t just inform them.

Show them, with an individualized presentation, that not only are installation costs lower but also incentives (including new state-level clean energy policies) and diverse financing options can help them go solar in a way that works for their budget:

  1. Use a highly accurate solar design program to easily create and present a realistic system’s energy production on your prospect’s individual rooftop.
  2. Estimate how much solar will save your prospect with a thorough, powerful financial modeling tool—one that takes into account how much current solar incentives and net metering policies will save them over the system’s lifetime.
  3. Discuss their financial options: up-front (cash) payment, solar loans, leases, and power purchase agreements. Most homeowners don’t have to pay the entire up-front cost, and can see their systems pay for themselves within 6-9 years.
  4. Remind them that through 2020 they can save 26% on their solar costs with the Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), but that the residential ITC is scheduled to phase out by 2022.
  5. Finally, don’t just depend on your own testimony—gather and showcase enthusiastic online reviews of your former customers who are thrilled with their solar savings.

Once you’ve clarified the current costs and savings of going solar with such detail, your newly well-informed prospects will be much more comfortable making this major decision.

See how Aurora Solar software can help you close more sales in a free  consultation.

Extra Solar Myth-busting: Should I Wait?

Myth: “If solar panels are always getting cheaper, shouldn’t I wait until their price bottoms out?”

Fact: Solar hard costs have already dropped as much as they’re going to with current technology, especially considering the ongoing ITC phase-out.

2. Myth: “It’ll be harder to sell my home with solar panels.”

Fact: Homes with solar panels tend to sell faster and for 4% more.

Residential solar prospects sometimes worry that the appearance or cost of solar panels could lead to trouble selling their house down the road.

You can alleviate these worries by showing them this 2019 study by leading real estate marketplace Zillow, which revealed that solar homes in the U.S. sell for an average of 4.1% more than their non-solar counterparts.

Even back in 2015, when solar costs weren’t as low as they are now, a study by the U.S. Dept. of Energy revealed that solar systems increased home sale prices by an average of $15,000 for a 3.6 kW system (about $24,000 for a 5-6 kW system.)

Show concerned homeowners this study and note its further conclusion that solar homes sold more quickly than comparable non-solar homes.

This trustworthy data will help your prospects see that when they’re ready to sell their home, solar panels can make it more convenient as well as more profitable.

Pro Tip:

When presenting this information, remember to inform prospects that different financing options may impact the ease of their solar home’s sales process.

If they’re considering an option other than cash financing, remind them to ask their financing provider about their policies for transferring the loan, lease, or PPA to a subsequent buyer.

3. Myth: “A solar system would damage my roof.”

(Or “My friend’s cousin’s roof started leaking after they got solar panels!”)

Fact: With proper installation procedures and precautions, solar roofs remain safe and sound.

The idea of holes being drilled into their roof—on purpose—understandably spooks some solar prospects. Perhaps they know someone whose roof started leaking or letting in drafts after they went solar, and are wary of installers who assure that it won’t happen to their roof.

Of course, flat roofs require no holes to be drilled at all. And if penetration-free solar systems are a good fit for a particular prospect’s property, let them know if you offer relevant options such as ground mounts or ballasted racking.

But traditional roof solar panels still present the best option for many homeowners, so here’s how to help them realize that:

  1. First, ensure that you and your team are indeed providing the best services. This includes not installing solar on old roofs, damaged roofs, or other poor roof fits.
  2. Recommend that prospects complete any needed roof repair or replacement before installing solar panels.
  3. Explain the process (simply) to your customers. Once they understand the basics of a proper roof-drilling procedure, they’ll be reassured that the process will keep their roofs safe from damage and leaks.
  4. As with Myth #1, third-party social proof goes a long way towards allaying prospects’ anxieties. Positive reviews and glowing testimonials from your happy rooftop customers will let homeowners know that their roof is in good hands.

This establishes trust by showing them that you’re not rushing them towards a decision—you’re genuinely concerned about their long-term benefit.

See how Aurora helps solar companies grow revenue, cut costs, and impress their  customers!

4. Myth: “As my solar panels age, they’ll get less efficient and need too much maintenance.”

Fact: Solar panels require very little maintenance and stay productive for decades.

Since solar PV systems are unfamiliar to many people, homeowners often assume that they malfunction easily, need frequent maintenance, and lose significant efficiency over their lifespan—thus leaving solar customers with more expenses and larger electric bills.

Fortunately for you and your prospects, these are all misunderstandings. Just as fortunately, you can easily explain the reason in a single sentence: Solar panels have no moving parts.

With no moving parts to malfunction or get worn out, solar systems are not only low-maintenance (probably more so than your prospects’ HVAC systems or cell phones) but also very long-lived. Share these facts with customers:

  1. Your solar panel suppliers’ warranty (Most solar panels are warrantied to produce at over 80% efficiency for 20+ years)
  2. Efficiency reductions from solar panel degradation are less significant than they may expect. Current solar panels will maintain near-consistent energy production for decades.
  3. Even less advanced solar panels installed in the 1980s still produce significant energy today.
  4. Solar panel maintenance is minimal, typically requiring only that panels remain unshaded. Usually, prospects will just need to keep their panels clean of dust, leaves, or heavy snow (depending on your area) and trim shading branches.

5. Myth: “Solar energy is unreliable—my area’s too dark/cold/cloudy/rainy/snowy/shady/etc.”

Fact: Solar panels still produce electricity in cloudy weather and long, snowy winters.

As always, be honest with your prospects: solar systems won’t produce as much energy on a cloudy day, in shade, or in winter. (And none at night.)

But honesty includes letting them know that modern solar panels are 50-80% productive even under clouds and rain, and are worth the investment even in snowy climates. (For example, solar is growing exponentially in Germany, the upper Midwest, and New England.)

Of course, the irradiance of every individual house is affected by a unique combination of different factors—sun exposure, climate, shade, and more.

So the best way to convince individual homeowners that solar is worth it for them, in particular, is to create an accurate 3D model of their property to determine its irradiance. This model must account for all possible factors that will affect their system’s energy production; the right design program will make this much easier (and 30x) faster than you might think.

Extra Solar Myth-busting: Solar Grid Connection

Myths:“Will I have to go off grid with solar?”

“Won’t I be able to go off-grid with solar?”

“Won’t my solar system will give me power during a blackout?”

Fact: No to all three questions, unless your prospects are willing to buy batteries (energy storage).

Homeowners may choose to add a battery backup to their solar system to keep the lights on during a blackout, but let them know that battery systems can cost between $5,000 and $15,000.

How to Inform Prospects

Now that you have all the resources to dispel these solar myths, it’s time to share the realities of going solar with your prospects. But as always, effective communication isn’t just about what you say—it’s how and when you say it.

Here’s a quick guide to sharing these solar facts:

1. Be Proactive

Don’t wait for prospects to ask about these myths before sharing the truth. Some homeowners may be too shy to ask, or be driven away by false solar beliefs even before they contact you.

So instead of letting them take the lead, take it yourself:

2. Share Online

Homeowners almost always research solar energy and local installers online. Don’t let this opportunity go to waste—you can reach thousands of prospects with website articles, FAQ pages, and social media posts that debunk solar myths.

3. Show Evidence

Don’t just assume that prospects will take you at your word. After all, you are selling solar, and they know you’re an interested party.

Instead, make sure to back up your claims by sharing the trustworthy resources and research, such as those we’ve linked to in this article. Even better, showing how and why you’re making certain recommendations and estimates can help build trust.

4. Respect Their Concerns

As a solar professional, you’re intimately familiar with the facts behind these five myths. It might get tiring to explain them over and over again, but remember that prospects don’t realize you’re doing that—to them, these worries are always brand-new.

So never condescend, no matter how obvious the answers seem to you. Treat their objections seriously and patiently—they’re right to ask questions about solar’s long-term effects on their finances and home.

5. Create an Accurate Solar Model—and Tailored Proposal—for Their Property

General solar knowledge and statistics are a great start. But in the end, each homeowner’s main question is, “How will solar help me, in particular?”

The most convincing answer is a clear, detailed presentation that showcases accurate, individualized physical and financial models for your prospect’s home and lifestyle.

If these design and financial models clearly account for everything that might influence a particular solar system’s potential, they will do more than anything else to show your prospect the concrete, tangible benefits of going solar.

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Topics: Solar Sales

Why You Need a Remote Solar Sales Process and How to Build One

Posted by Gwen Brown on Nov 20, 2019 8:47:51 PM

In the solar industry, it pays to move fast if you want to close a sale with a potential customer. In fact, sales research has found that how quickly a lead is called after expressing interest is the most significant driver of conversion rates. For that reason, it’s worth taking a close look at selling solar remotely—using screen sharing tools and remote solar design software—if you’re not already.

A well-executed remote sales strategy can help you follow up with leads faster and reach them while they are most ready to buy. It can also return valuable hours to your sales team, allowing your company to follow up on more leads and sell more solar installations instead of driving from home to home. Additionally, online sales calls may better suit the preferences of modern consumers who prefer to make purchasing decisions online rather than have a salesperson visit their home.

Finally, this approach can significantly reduce soft costs for your company by allowing you to limit costly site visits to just the customers you’ve already closed. Mike Wiegel at Solarponics, a California solar installer, experienced this firsthand:  “[Remote selling with] Aurora has given us the ability to do accurate site designs while reducing pre-sale site visits—saving us $500 per lead."

In today’s article, we break down what you need to put in place a strong system for selling solar remotely.

See how Aurora Solar software can help you close more sales in a free  consultation.

What Does a Remote Solar Sales Process Look Like?

When we talk about selling solar remotely, what are we referring to? A remote solar sales process involves selling solar to the customer from your desk rather than in the home or office.

The use of conferencing software that enables you to share a view of your computer screen lets the prospect follow along with any visuals, such as slides, your solar proposal, and even your solar design software. This allows you to showcase the design and effectively communicate the information the prospect needs to be confident in the decision to buy solar from your company.

This system is one that Aurora Solar Account Executive Elliot Goldstein used often in his previous role selling solar. Prior to joining Aurora, Elliot worked for a leading national solar installation company, where he sold millions of dollars of residential solar deals and helped lead an inside sales team that operated in 16 different states. Elliot explains that this process worked particularly well because it allowed him and his team to get an accurate design and real numbers to the prospect in under one hour.

His typical sales call would start off by talking through a slide deck that covered things like the homeowner’s current electricity bills, an introduction to solar, how net metering works, and the value the company offers (e.g., hardware details, quality of install, etc.). From there he would walk through the custom solar design for the prospect's home and ensure approval before getting into the financials of the project. [To learn more about best practices for a successful solar sales pitch, see our related blog post—which also includes insights from Elliot.]

Likely most or all of your existing sales pitch can be retained when selling remotely, you just need the right setup to support a remote sale. Let’s dig into that below.

Setting Up a Remote Solar Sales Model: 3 Key Elements

Many solar companies have found great success selling solar remotely. If saving time and money while connecting with leads faster sounds like something your company is interested in, where do you start?

There are a few elements to a remote sales strategy that works seamlessly: an inbound lead funnel (or other pipeline of qualified leads), a system for quickly responding to leads and booking appointments, and the right software tools to make the whole process work. Let’s take a look at each:

1) Create a lead funnel based on a strong online presence

A remote solar sales approach can benefit significantly from an inbound marketing and sales strategy—in which interested customers come to you. Even if your company already has an outbound sales approach of door-knocking or reaching out to purchased leads, adding an inbound strategy can help you tap the pipeline of customers that are already looking for a qualified solar installer. Many teams function with a hybrid inside-outside sales approach.

To build a funnel of inbound leads, you’ll want to invest in your website and build strong reviews on third-party platforms such as Google and Yelp by following up with customers. Having a strong online presence will make a difference to modern solar shoppers who are likely to do their own web research before moving forward in the solar sales process.

2) Create a system for booking appointments—with rapid response times

It’s critical that you have an internal system that allows you to respond and book appointments with prospects as fast as possible. A major benefit of an inside sales approach is that you can pitch and close the homeowner that same day—within the same hour even—of when they request the quote.

Research supports that the time when a homeowner is requesting the quote they are most likely to buy and you’re more likely to connect with them then. In fact, one study of 3.5 million leads, found that calling within the first minute of lead generation can increase your likelihood of conversion by nearly 400%.

To support lead generation, your website needs to be set up with a way to identify prospects and gather their contact information so you can follow up quickly. Options include: a pop-up form that allows them to enter their phone and email (this can be especially effective if you offer something of value, such as a solar factsheet) or a chatbot.

However you structure it, you’ll want to make sure that your team is prepared to immediately follow up with the prospect as soon as they enter their contact information. Elliot has seen success having a dedicated person or people who are responsible for quickly calling new leads to book an appointment, while their interest in solar is still top of mind. Depending on the size of your team, this could also be the salesperson themself.

It’s a best practice to gather the information needed for a solar quote in this first appointment-setting call—particularly information on their utility bill and the address where solar would be installed. That way you can have a compelling and personalized quote ready to present during the sales call. This also allows your team to identify early on if a prospect is not a good candidate for solar (for instance, their property is too shaded), before investing a lot of time.

3) Get the right software tools to support great, remote, sales calls

Of course, if you’re going to start selling solar remotely, you need tools to support remote sales calls and remote solar designs. Solar design software is a critical part of a workflow to get an accurate quote to a homeowner within one hour of the lead’s request.

Aurora Solar enables accurate shade assessments, solar designs, and financial modeling without leaving your office through the use of satellite and other imagery, local weather data, and other advanced tools. This allows solar contractors to quickly determine shading at the site and create a professional sales proposal.

Says Hans Frederickson of Cascadia Solar in Washington state, “What we can do now with the remote assessment [tools from Aurora] is put some nice graphics and financial information in front of a customer within an hour from talking with them on the phone.

a solar sales proposal

Software that ensures accurate remote solar design is the backbone of a remote solar sales strategy. Without software that allows you to be confident in the accuracy of your designs, change orders resulting from inaccurate design assumptions can cut into your margins—or cost you the sale entirely.

Aurora was built to ensure design accuracy without site visits, and its shading accuracy has been validated by NREL as statistically equivalent to onsite shade measurements. Other features, like measurements powered by computer vision, LIDAR, multiple imagery sources like Google, Bing, Nearmap, Google HD help ensure you can get a clear view of the site.

With a robust software that ensures the quality of your remote designs, you can save the site visits (to ensure structural integrity) to after the sale has been closed, and limit costly pre-sale site visits to rare instances. For Hans and Cascadia Solar, this change enabled them to double solar sales month over month and more than double sales year over year!

In addition to solar design and sales software, a video conferencing platform that supports screen sharing (such as Zoom, JoinMe, Clearslide, or others) allows you to walk through your slide deck and other information effectively with the customer.

This will enable you to showcase the PV system you’ve designed and effectively answer customer questions. For example, with Aurora, you can show the color-coded irradiance map of the customer’s roof so they understand why you recommend placing panels in certain areas and not others. You could even show an animation of the sun’s actual path through the sky at different times of the year and how the shadows move across their property or show what the irradiance would be like if a tree removed.

an irradiance map

You could also consult with the customer on things like how their energy usage (and bills) might change if they got an electric vehicle, using Aurora’s consumption portal. Taking this kind of educational role, and using interactive visuals, can help build trust. This is particularly important for a purchase as significant, and often unfamiliar, as a solar PV system.

You can round out your system with a tool like DocuSign or PandaDoc that makes it easy to send and get a signature on your contract, digitally.

Implementing a system to sell solar remotely lets your sales team respond as fast as possible to inquiries from prospects, allowing you to connect with them when they are most interested. It returns valuable time to your team by reducing time spent driving to potentially faraway sites—giving them more hours to respond to do what they do best, sell. Offering a solar consultation over the phone or computer takes the pressure off the homeowner, offering an easier option for the client. Finally, the soft cost savings from reduced site visits can be significant, helping to make solar deployment less costly.

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Topics: Solar Sales

4 Ways for Solar Leads to Share the Utility Bill Data You Need

Posted by Gwen Brown on Sep 4, 2019 8:54:22 PM

Accurate information about how much electricity a prospective solar customer is using—and when—is essential to creating an accurate solar design and quote to close the sale. It’s also key to building the case for why solar can help them. But getting this data is often one of the first barriers you’ll confront in the solar sales process.

To increase the likelihood of getting the data you need in a timely fashion, it’s good to give the customer a few different options for how they can provide their utility bill information. (It also helps to be familiar with the utility’s bill format and how energy usage data can be accessed—as we discuss here.)

Elliot Goldstein encountered this challenge often in his time at a leading residential solar company where he managed an inside sales team that sold to 16 U.S. states.

In the process, he learned a lot about how to efficiently get the utility bill data needed to create an accurate solar quote. We sat down with Goldstein, currently a member of the sales team here at Aurora, to learn some best practices for effectively overcoming this solar sales barrier.

Whether you’re new to selling solar or looking to improve your process, we hope these recommendations help you work more efficiently when it comes to getting electricity usage data from your solar leads.

See how Aurora Solar software can help you close more sales in a free  consultation.

Approaches for Obtaining Utility Bill Data from Solar Leads

There are a number of different ways and formats to collect the utility bill data you need, depending on how tech-savvy the prospective customer is and what’s available from their utility company.

In general, it’s better to get a copy (or picture) of the customer’s actual bill or bills when possible, as this will provide more information than just their total kilowatt hour consumption or bill amount in a recent month. It will also allow you to ensure the accuracy of the information.

However, you’ll likely need to be flexible depending on what the customer is most comfortable with or can do easily. Here are a few options:

1. Download a Copy of the Bill from Their Utility Website

One of the best options for getting the customer’s electricity usage data is to have them login to their utility account online, download their electricity bill, and email it to you.

You quickly get the information you need in a convenient format, and the customer may be more easily able to provide multiple months of utility data since all of their bills can be found in their account. This is a great option for customers that are relatively tech-savvy and already manage their utility accounts online.

You’ll want to be prepared to walk the customer through this process if they would find it helpful. As we discussed in a previous article, for this reason it’s important to be familiar with the utility company’s website and where to find the information you need.

Goldstein cautions that forgotten passwords are a common barrier to this approach. “Small things, like having a process in place so you’re prepared to walk them through resetting their password, can help streamline the process.”

2. Download Interval Data (If the Utility Offers It)

Another option for customers that are comfortable accessing their utility account online, is to walk them through the process of downloading interval data if their utility company offers it.

Interval data, which indicates how much electricity the customer used in different (usually 1-hour or 15-minute) intervals throughout each day in the month. It is typically offered in XML or CSV format.  For contractors that use UtilityAPI, a service that provides a fast way of requesting customer utility bills interval data, you can download the resulting data and easily upload it into your Aurora solar design software.

For solar contractors that use solar software that accepts interval data, this offers advantages for solar design compared to just getting copies of past bills. You’ll be better able to understand the customer’s load profile, which is particularly important for customers in areas with time of use rates. With this data, you may be able to design a better solar installation for their needs.

Again, as discussed in our previous article on this topic, you’ll need to be familiar enough with the utility company to know if this is something they offer, as well as where and how this data can be accessed.

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3) Take a Picture or Make a Copy

Another great option is to have the prospect take a picture or their electricity bill and send it to you. This can be particularly good if they are less tech-savvy or having trouble remembering their login to their online account, but have a paper copy of their bill on hand. Scanning or copying it also works, depending on what’s easiest for the individual.

As Goldstein explains, “If you can have them take a picture of the bill with their smartphone and text or email it to you, that's often a good practice if they’re not as comfortable going on the website.”

You’ll want to ensure that they send pictures of all pages of the bill to make sure you’re not missing important information. And again, if you can get pictures of multiple months’ bills, that’s even better.

4) Authorize the Utility to Share Information Directly

Finally, in some cases, it’s possible to get the information you need for a great solar design directly from the customer’s utility. Where available, this is an excellent option since it doesn’t involve much time on the part of the customer. Plus, you can be confident you’re getting the right information since you’re getting it straight from the utility.

Typically, the customer will have to authorize the company to share that data on their behalf so you should be prepared to walk them through that process, which may involve submitting a form. Your company may also need to register with the utility as an authorized third party that can access this information.

If the utility company has one, you may be able to call a solar hotline to get their monthly kilowatt hours. Alternatively, some utility companies will share interval data (how much energy the customer used at specific, e.g. 1-hour, intervals throughout the billing period). This can be incredibly valuable in building an accurate load profile for the customer. You may also be able to access it through other third party companies that specialize in making this kind of data accessible.

Some electric utilities, like PG&E, let customers authorize the release of their energy usage data. This is helpful for solar companies.

PG&E in California allows customers to release their electricity usage data to third parties, which can be very useful for solar contractors. 

Build Efficient Processes to Get Utility Data Early

Whatever method the customer finds most convenient for sharing their data, it’s a good idea for your solar company to put in place processes to facilitate getting this information early so it can be taken into account in the solar quote you provide.

Exactly what that looks like will depend on your company’s structure and workflow. This might involve the salesperson making a pre-qualification call to confirm the interest of a particular lead and get electricity bill data as a first step before a formal consultation. Or, if your company has a dedicated role that helps qualify solar leads or book appointments, that person might take the lead on getting bill information at that stage.

Does your company also offer other services, like roofing, energy efficiency, or HVAC? If a customer expresses interest in getting solar in the course of getting other services, perhaps it makes sense to coach those team members to ask for the electricity bill at that point, so you can streamline the follow up process.


Electricity usage and utility bill data is a crucial first step to giving a solar lead an accurate solar quote and an appropriate solar design. While getting this information is a common initial barrier in the solar sales process, giving your prospect convenient options and putting in place an efficient process can help considerably. Following up quickly is crucial in closing solar sales so find the strategy that works best for them and you!

Has your company found other ways to efficiently get prospective customers bill data? Share your tips and tricks in the comments below!

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Topics: Solar Utility Bill, Solar Sales

The 3 Questions Your Solar Sales Pitch Needs to Answer

Posted by Gwen Brown on May 15, 2019 8:50:21 PM

Selling solar isn’t always an easy task. But with the right framework, you can make it easier. A good framework can help you effectively address the prospect’s concerns and communicate the value of a solar installation from your company.

On May 7, 2019, in a webinar with Greentech Media, Aurora staff members Elliot Goldstein and Kenneth Williams presented practical strategies for improving your residential solar sales, based on their personal experiences selling millions of dollars in solar installations for leading U.S. solar companies.

As Elliot and Kenneth explained, there are three questions that your sales conversation should answer for every prospective customer: Why does solar make sense for them? Why is your company the best fit to install solar for them? And why they should go solar now?

Elliot and Kenneth sold millions of dollars in residential solar and share strategies to improve your solar sales.Elliot Goldstein and Kenneth Williams, the Aurora team members who presented in our May 2019 solar sales webinar with Greentech Media, have sold millions of dollars in solar working for leading solar companies in their previous roles. They share their strategies for closing more solar sales. 

It is crucial to get buy-in on these topics before you get into the cost of the system, which should be the final stage of your conversation. Elliot cautions that “If they don’t want to get away from their utility yet, you’ll price shock your customer.” But if each of these questions is answered well early on, you’re much more likely to win the customer’s business. Here’s how to tackle these topics in your sales pitch.

See how Aurora Solar software can help you close more sales in a free  consultation.

Why Solar?

For the customer that isn’t yet sure if solar is right for them, how do you delve into the value solar offers? One of the best ways to explain the value of solar is to start with an understanding of the customer’s current challenges with their electric bill.

As Kenneth Williams explains, “This is a teaching moment for you to educate your prospect on why their current situation is not sustainable. It’s best if you have their bill present or can provide some visuals for them to see how they’re using energy over the year. Before you can pitch solar as a solution with value, your prospect needs to understand they have little or no control over their current utility bill.”

Solar software like Aurora offers powerful visual tools you can use to explore your prospect’s current energy consumption with them. This can also be a good starting point for asking the customer about their motivations for considering solar and any concerns they have—so you can tailor your conversation to what they care about most.

As Kenneth explains, “If your prospect isn’t talking, you’re not closing the sale. Solar sales is really about having a great dialogue and understanding who you are speaking with and their true reasons for buying solar energy for their home.”

Depending on how much information the customer has about their electricity bills, Aurora provides a few different tools for understanding their energy use and spending, including options for uploading interval data if they have it from their utility. If they only have a few recent bills or just know how much they spent in certain months, Aurora’s bill estimator tool can model what their energy consumption likely looks like throughout the rest of the year based on typical usage profiles in their area. 

 Visuals that illustrate the customer's electricity use and spending, can be helpful in your solar sales pitch.Visuals that illustrate the customer's electricity use and spending, can be helpful in communicating the value of a solar installation. This chart from Aurora shows electricity consumption (darker orange) and charges (lighter orange) in each month. 

This can help the prospect conceptualize how much they are spending and provide a starting point for how solar can provide greater control over their energy bills. As Elliot explains, “I love this visual of their kilowatt-hour consumption and monthly cost side by side; it helps me focus their attention on the spikes in their bill.”

“I like to ask them if they’ve tried to reduce their bill in the past and how that’s worked out," says Elliot. "Many have already tried efficiency upgrades but utility rates have continued to go up as well. As a best practice, I like to pick the highest bill that they have… and calculate what that will be five years from now if the historic rate hikes of about 3 to 5% for most utilities continue.”

You can also build trust by consulting with the customer on any changes they have planned that would impact their energy usage—such as plans to purchase an electric vehicle or pool—and how solar can help them. Aurora’s Consumption Profile tool lets you explore how their bills may change in the future due to these kinds of changes.

Educating customers about the value of solar using visuals of their energy consumption is a useful sales tip.Aurora's consumption portal has interactive tools to understand the customer's energy usage under different scenarios, such as if they purchase an electric vehicle.

Throughout the process, keep that dialogue going and be sure to ask clarifying questions to make sure you’re really understanding the customer’s priorities, goals, and concerns.

Why Your Company?

In addition to communicating the value solar can offer to the customer—you also need to answer the question of why they should choose your company. How do you communicate what makes your company stand out from the pack in a competitive industry where many homeowners are getting several different solar quotes?

You’ll certainly want to emphasize the products and services that make your company unique. Is your customer satisfaction off the charts? Are you using more efficient panels or offering a great warranty?

However, with many companies offering similar products, a key differentiator is trust. As the salesperson, you play a key role in communicating how your company will ensure that the solar installation—and the resulting savings they receive—live up to expectations.

As Elliot explains, “Using advanced [solar] software can build that trust in WHY your numbers are accurate. Anyone can make up an estimate that looks good…. but if you can show why your numbers have a solid foundation and why your quote is less likely to change after they sign a contract, that’s one way to leave a lasting impression when your customer is likely to get 3-5 bids.”

Designing in Aurora gives you a number of tools to ensure that your proposed solar design—and the resulting energy production and bill savings—are accurate, and giving the customer a walk-through of some of these tools can help them see firsthand the precision and attention to detail that you’re putting into their proposal.

Some of these features of your design process that you may want to highlight for the customer include:

  • Your precise 3D model of their house that ensures panels will fit as anticipated and that the design will look the way they expect it to.
  • Aurora’s accurate, NREL-validated shading analysis, including the visually striking irradiance map of their home that can help communicate the best places for panels
  • The ability to configure setbacks based on the requirements of their local jurisdiction, which ensure you won’t have to redo their design because of setback violations
  • And the precision of Aurora’s energy production and bill estimates.
Want the full webinar's worth of solar sales tips?  Watch the recorded webinar here! 
Powerful solar design tools like Aurora can set your company apart in the solar sales process. A precise 3D model of the customer's home with their solar design and locally required setbacks, is one way to help them understand the strong design processes that differentiate your company. 

Why Now?

A final question you need to satisfactorily answer for the customer is why it makes sense to go solar now. To do this, you need to build a sense of urgency with the customer. That could be rooted in their own plans and goals or in external factors.

Kenneth advises, “This is where a lot of what you learned from the dialogue with the customer is going to come in handy. Depending on their goals for going solar, they may have their own factors that create a natural sense of urgency so it can help to put things in those terms. Is summer coming up and they’re really trying to avoid those high summer spiking electricity bills? Are they in the process of buying an EV?”

Elliot adds, “You can also use external factors, like utility rate increases, to underscore why going solar now may be better than waiting. Many people also know about the Investment Tax Credit stepping down or NEM capping out, and that is creating real urgency this year.”

Educating your customer on the value of getting grandfathered into a net metering plan, can also help—particularly if they’re concerned about waiting for technology to improve. If a robust net metering rate is available to your customer, getting access to that now may result in better financial return over the life of their system than waiting, particularly if the utility is considering future rate changes that will reduce the value of solar.

Limited-time promotions and discounts can also build urgency, but Elliot cautions that you should use them wisely. “I see many reps start using these as crutches and end up giving away their commission and the company’s profit. If you’ve built perceived value in your brand, most homeowners are willing to pay more to get quality. I recommend only using discounts to push your sale to close quickly at the end once your customer is bought into you and your company.”

An effective solar sales strategy will communicate 1) why solar 2) why your company, and 3) why now.
An effective solar sales process communicates 1) why solar makes sense (assuming it does for the customer, of course!), 2) why they should choose your company, and 3) why now is a good time to install.
 
While there are many sales strategies you can employ to close more sales, framing your sales pitch around these three questions—Why Solar? Why Your Company? And Why Now?—will ensure you answer the fundamental things your customer needs to agree on before they’ll be comfortable moving forward.

For more detailed insights on this framework, and many more tips for improving your sales of residential solar, check out the full webinar presentation!

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What else is important to cover in the solar sales conversation? What strategies have you found success with? Let us know in the comments below!

 

Topics: Solar Sales

Solar Sales Insights from the Theory of Planned Behavior

Posted by Sara Carbone on May 2, 2019 1:59:22 PM

Residential solar customer acquisition can be an expensive process. In 2017 GTM estimated that the average cost of getting new solar customers was 17% of the total residential system cost and set to grow to 20%. Therefore, making your sales and marketing process as effective and targeted as possible is important.

There are many factors that influence consumer behavior. The more you understand the various factors at play when a prospect considers adopting solar, the better equipped you are to speak to their specific concerns and present them with the most engaging information.

NREL funded a study to shed light on the social and psychological factors influencing homeowners when they consider solar PV. This second article in our three-part series on this study looks at some of its findings and how they can support your solar sales and marketing process.

See how Aurora Solar software can help you close more sales in a free  consultation.

The Theory of Planned Behavior offers some insights on consumers' decision process to buy solar.Understanding your prospect's decision making process for buying solar can help you improve your solar sales conversation. 

This Series and the NREL Study

In this Aurora blog series, we examine the insights of a 2016 NREL-funded study, Explaining interest in adopting residential solar photovoltaic systems in the United States: Toward an integration of behavioral theories.

Researchers from several universities surveyed 904 homeowners from four U.S. states who had not already adopted solar to understand the impact of certain psychological and social factors on consumer interest in residential solar. These factors were selected based on three behavioral theories that offer insights about prospects’ decision making processes, as well as input from professionals in the solar industry.

Each article in our series looks at one of the behavioral theories included in the study, examining insights it offers for the solar customer acquisition process. Where applicable we also pull in other related research.

In this article, we consider what the “theory of planned behavior” has to reveal about the adoption of solar as a consumer good. In the first article, we looked at insights from a theory viewing solar as a new innovation and in the final article, we’ll highlight findings from a theory related to environmentalism.

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The Theory of Planned Behavior

The theory of planned behavior (TPB) asserts that the intention to perform a behavior comes from a rational decision making process involving the consideration of three things:

1) one’s attitudes toward the behavior,

2) subjective norms or one’s perceived social pressure to engage in the behavior, and

3) perceived behavioral control (perception of one’s ability to perform that behavior).

The Theory of Planned Behavior posits that attitudes, norms, and perceived control influence consumers’ intent to buy. Source: Kimberly S. Wolske, Paul C. Stern, Thomas Dietz, “Explaining interest in adopting residential solar photovoltaic systems in the United States: Toward an integration of behavioral theories,” Energy Research & Social Science, Volume 25, 2017.

According to TPB, during the purchasing process, all three of these factors are impacted by the value a consumer expects to gain from the purchase and their beliefs about the purchase’s consequences. As applied to residential solar, this might be the fact that a solar system is a relatively expensive consumer good that requires some significant alterations to their home. Therefore, the solar decision making process can be partially explained by the weighing costs and benefits, such as the impact on one’s home and finances.

TPB Factors and What They Mean for Contractors

The study found a number of TPB variables related to consumer beliefs that influence attitudes toward residential solar. The researchers found that these factors accounted for 29% of the variation in interest in solar adoption, after accounting for other household constraints.

Understanding how these variables impact the prospect’s decision making process can offer valuable insights to improve your marketing materials and sales conversations with homeowners.

Inform Consumers About the Feasibility of Solar

Strategically counteracting negative perceptions about solar can help increase solar sales success. Prevalent positive ideas about the benefits of solar were found to include: belief in solar’s ability to protect against rising electricity costs, improvement in home value, and reductions in environmental pollution. The perception that had the strongest direct effect on those considering solar was the belief that they would personally benefit, followed by the idea that it could address environmental problems.

However, drawbacks that could potentially interfere with these perceptions about solar’s benefits were misconceptions about maintenance costs, unreliability, and the risks involved with altering one’s house. Researchers found that a particular barrier was worry about the price of the installation and maintenance, particularly given that solar’s price and operating costs are generally less well-known when compared to other large consumer purchases like cars or appliances.

There was also the common idea that, given fears about potential risks, it was better to wait until the quality and cost-effectiveness of solar improved, particularly since some prospects knew that panel costs had been going down in recent years. It may be important to clarify solar’s current—and potentially quite affordable—installation and maintenance costs since many prospects simply don’t have information about them.

Help customers understand financing options and incentives that can put solar in their budget.Help your customer understand some of the financing options and incentives that can put solar within their budget; many assume that solar is not feasible for them without knowing the actual cost. 

A 2015 Texas study using TPB to examine prospect decision making found a “low awareness of solar costs” among respondents. The researchers found that many said they would install solar if they could afford it and felt there would be only low financial returns, despite the existence of federal and local incentives and leasing options.

In light of this, researchers suggested that solar companies work to educate consumers about solar by making them more aware of incentives like rebates, declining prices, and lease options. They also advised that education about incentives is more effective if it includes information that clearly enables prospects to assess how incentives actually impact key criteria like affordability. Therefore, it may be effective to not only educate about the typical price of installation and maintenance but also present information about incentives in a way that is particularly attractive and relevant to a prospect’s particular set of criteria.

Aurora’s financial analysis tools can be particularly helpful here—because you can model the cost of the customer’s system given any applicable incentives. You can also how financial metrics and cash flows differ under different financing options.

Aurora's financial analysis tools can illustrate the finances of a solar purchase, including the impact of incentives.Aurora's financial analysis tools can help you illustrate the finances of a solar purchase, including the impact of relevant incentives. 

Create Positive Social Pressure: Connect Prospects with Neighbors Who Have Gone Solar

Find opportunities to encourage interactions between homeowners considering solar and others in their area who are happy solar customers. The study found that a belief in peer support (or lack of it) was the second most impactful variable when it came to solar adoption. This is based on the idea that a large number of prospects view group approval or disapproval as important. Researchers found that the feeling that friends and neighbors supported solar adoption often counteracted their concerns about the perceived risks.

Peer-to-peer marketing is one way you can encourage sharing about the benefits of solar. Inc.com states that “as a marketing decision...getting some early adaptors to tell their friends is more efficient and more effective than just about anything else you can do.”

If your company has successfully installed the first system in a particular neighborhood, you may look to capitalize on this through localized marketing efforts. Some of our team members who have previously sold solar for leading installation companies suggest that one way to do this is to use Aurora to create custom solar designs for neighboring houses, and distribute them on the day of the install. Securing positive online reviews, requesting referrals, or creating high quality, engaging content that is easily shareable in person or online.

Interactions with others who have installed solar can help prospects feel they have peer support for a solar purchase.Finding ways to encourage interactions with others nearby who have installed solar can help prospects feel that they have peer support for a solar purchase.

Help Prospects Feel They Can Go Solar By Addressing Their Concerns

The results of the study showed that even peer influence can be overridden by a homeowner’s belief that they are not able to adopt solar. Given this, it is helpful to explicitly identify a prospect’s concerns and address them in the sales conversation.

Typical reasons customers believe solar is not feasible for them were found to be: concerns about local climate, exposure to sunlight on their property, and expectations about having to move soon.

Concerns About Shade

The study stated that “homeowners may quickly dismiss [residential PV] if they believe their homes or locations unsuitable” because of things like inadequate sunlight due to the local climate or the shadiness of their property.

Interestingly, however, researchers found that this particular concern made a prospect more likely to want to talk to a contractor, reflecting a genuine interest in confirming whether their property was truly unsuitable for solar.

This is something you may wish to use to shape your initial messaging or early stages of sales conversations. Aurora users can also take advantage of the irradiance map feature, which helps you show a prospect how much shade and solar access a home has, to address these concerns.

An Aurora Solar irradiance map is a helpful tool for solar sales to show homeowners how much sun reaches their property.Aurora's irradiance map tool is one way to educate prospective solar customers about how much solar energy reaches their roof and if they are a good candidate for solar.

Concerns About Moving

Another common concern brought up by prospects was that “I may not be in my home long enough to get the benefits of investing in solar.” You may consider addressing this by offering information about solar’s impact on their home’s value during your sales conversations.

There are a number of studies that demonstrate that U.S. houses with solar sell faster and for more money. A 2015 Lawrence Berkeley National Lab study examined sales data for 23,000 homes in eight states from 2002 to 2013, 4,000 of which had a solar system. The study found that buyers were willing to pay a premium of $15,000 for a home with an average-sized solar PV system, compared to a similar home without one.


You can leverage these social and psychological factors that shape prospects’ perceptions about solar and its suitability to effectively target your solar sales and marketing efforts. These findings based on the theory of planned behavior highlight how to engage homeowners and address their specific concerns. In the next and final article of this series, we’ll look at findings from a behavioral theory related to environmentalism and examine how they can assist in the solar customer acquisition process.

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About This Series: Solar Sales Tips from 3 Theories of Solar Adoption

In 2016 the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) conducted a study that examined the decision making process of residential solar prospects through the lens of three behavioral theories. They sought to provide solar industry professionals with insights about the social and psychological factors influencing homeowners when they considered whether or not to adopt PV solar, in order to help increase the solar adoption rate.

In this three-part series, we look at each of these theories and discuss the key variables explored in the study and in related research. The series seeks to provide contractors information that can enhance their sales and marketing efforts.

Part 1. Increase Solar Sales Success with the Diffusion of Innovations Theory

Part 2. Solar Sales Insights from the Theory of Planned Behavior

Part 3. Coming soon!

Topics: Solar Sales, Solar Sales Tips from 3 Theories of Solar Adoption

Increase Solar Sales Success with the Diffusion of Innovations Theory

Posted by Sara Carbone on Apr 24, 2019 12:12:34 PM

Getting new customers is a persistent challenge in the residential solar industry. In fact, while other components of the cost of solar have fallen over time, in 2017 GTM reported that the cost to acquire a residential solar customer had actually gone up!

But what if you could have a better sense of what factors influence whether a potential residential solar customer will be interested in taking the first step of talking with a solar contractor?

Could you more precisely target prospects who are more likely to install solar? Could you better tailor your solar sales and marketing messages to address the considerations that play the biggest role in their decision-making process?

With that in mind, NREL funded a study with exactly that focus. This article, the first in a series of three, examines some of the findings of that study and what they mean for your solar sales and marketing strategy.

See how Aurora Solar software can help you close more sales in a free  consultation.

About This Series and the NREL Study

The three articles in this Aurora Blog series explore the insights of a 2016 NREL-funded study entitled Explaining interest in adopting residential solar photovoltaic systems in the United States: Toward an integration of behavioral theories.

Through a large survey of homeowners who had not already installed solar, researchers from several universities examined the impact of different psychological and social factors on individuals’ interest in residential solar. The factors were drawn from three behavioral theories that offer potential explanations for why people decide to pursue solar.

The study used survey data from 904 homeowners who had not already installed solar in four U.S. states: Arizona, California, New Jersey, and New York. The content of the surveys was built from each of the three theories and conversations with leaders in the residential solar industry.

Our series examines the findings of this NREL study, and other related research. Each article explores one of the behavioral theories considered in the study, highlighting what insights it offers for solar customer acquisition.

In this article, we share takeaways from “diffusion of innovations” theory that explains solar adoption through the lens of how people perceive and adopt new innovations. In future articles, we’ll highlight findings from the other theories considered.

The Diffusion of Innovations Theory

The diffusion of innovations theory (DOI) describes the process by which an innovation diffuses through society as a result of media communication and person-to-person interaction.

Source: Kimberly S. Wolske, Paul C. Stern, Thomas Dietz, “Explaining interest in adopting residential solar photovoltaic systems in the United States: Toward an integration of behavioral theories,” Energy Research & Social Science, Volume 25, 2017.

According to the DOI theory, a consumer’s process for adopting an innovation occurs in five stages: 1) their knowledge or awareness about it, 2) persuasion or the formation of their attitude about it, 3) their decision about whether to adopt the innovation, and if so, 4) implementation and 5) confirmation (deciding whether or not to continue using it.

There are a number of factors that impact the speed at which the individual moves through these five stages. One is the “innovativeness” of the potential adopter—the earliest adopters tend to be innovators who actively seek information about technology to assess its benefits.

Five additional factors about the way an individual perceives an innovation like solar influence their likelihood of adopting it and how quickly they decide to adopt it:

  1. Relative advantage: whether solar is perceived to improve a person’s status financially, environmentally, or socially
  2. Perceived compatibility with the individual’s existing values, needs, and practices
  3. Perceived complexity, such as whether the individual feels it will require a lot of effort to learn about solar
  4. Observability: whether consumers are able to observe that technology in use
  5. Trialability: the ability to test an innovation before committing
    (The researchers note that residential solar’s lack of trialability is one potential barrier to adoption. This is one reason you may want to capitalize on the other factors above in your messaging.)

The study survey included questions related to each of these variables drawn from DOI theory to assess how they impacted a prospect’s decision-making process. These factors offer some valuable insights into how you may want to frame your marketing messages and sales conversations.

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How DOI Factors Affect Solar Adoption

The researchers found that DOI variables accounted for a full 31% of the variation in individuals’ responses to survey questions.

In particular, the study found that a prospect’s perception of the relative advantages of going solar was the most significant indicator of their interest in talking with a solar contractor. Having observed solar (such as seeing solar on a neighbor’s house) helped increase their sense of relative advantage and reduce their perceived sense of solar’s riskiness.

Exposure to solar increases individuals' interest in talking to a solar contractor, a helpful insight for solar sales
Observing solar, including conversations with peers with solar, was one important factor in prospects' interest in talking to a solar contractor. Read on to find out about some of the other key factors and what they mean for your solar sales and marketing strategy.

Additionally, prospects’ interest in seeking out new technologies (a measure of their “innovativeness”) had a strong positive impact on their interest in contacting a solar installer.

Implications for Improving Solar Customer Acquisition

There are a number of practical implications of the study’s findings based on diffusion of innovations theory. Contractors and their sales and marketing teams can keep these insights in mind when shaping their messaging and considering how to approach sales conversations.

Emphasize Solar’s Relative Advantage and Compatibility with Customers’ Values and Lifestyle

Consider framing your marketing and sales messages in ways that emphasize the advantages of solar compared to the customer’s status quo. For instance, you may want to highlight the savings and greater control it offers over utility bills or increased home value. Although the study focused on prospects’ existing perceptions of solar, this was one of the most important factors in study participants’ interest in solar.

And, since compatibility with the customer’s lifestyle and whether the process is perceived as simple or complex are also important factors, you want to ensure that you make the process as simple as possible,

Early Adopters of Other Innovative Technologies May Be Good Solar Prospects

Because “innovativeness,” or a person’s eagerness to adopt new technologies, is a strong indicator of their interest in talking to a solar contractor, one customer acquisition strategy may be to target your marketing and sales outreach toward those who have adopted other innovative technologies.

Many contractors currently target consumers who are early adopters of other environmental technologies like hybrid and electric vehicles. The NREL researchers suggest also approaching consumers of other innovations such as “smart home” technologies, like smart thermostats. They point to the fact that homeowners who use home automation may be attracted to an online solar platform that allows them to monitor their energy usage and generation.

The Importance of Trust and Overcoming Prospects’ Sense of Risk

Finding ways to connect your customer with trusted sources of information about residential solar can help with sales success. The researchers state that “potential adopters need assurance from trusted sources of the personal benefits of RPV.” These can be neighbors with solar or neutral, third-party sources like government agencies or nonprofit organizations.

This kind of information impacts a prospect’s curiosity about solar as well as their willingness to talk to a contractor. The researchers also suggest offering contractual guarantees of system performance to increase consumer confidence. Aurora users could also highlight the NREL validation of the accuracy of their solar software.

Observability and the Power of Peer Influence

Because observability plays such a big role in customers’ decision-making, it may be helpful to think about creating opportunities for interactions between homeowners that help share the benefits of solar. Other studies have documented this, such as a 2012 California study that found the more common solar was in a zip code, the greater the likelihood of another household adopting it.

A 2015 study of Texas solar adopters found that the decision-making process is significantly shortened when homeowners see PV panels in their neighborhood or talk to neighbors who have solar. It found that the presence of PV system owners in a neighborhood had a significant impact—both passively, when consumers witnessed PV systems in their neighborhood, and actively, via peer-to-peer communication.

Contact with neighbors who had installed solar before an installation was the single most effective strategy for speeding decision times as it increased confidence, a sense of trust, and an understanding about solar’s convenience and relevance.

The Texas study suggested that contractors design incentive structures and communication platforms that facilitate peer-to-peer interactions, such as online social platforms or referral programs, because they have the potential to decrease individual decision-making time by over six months.

You might also want to target your marketing and sales outreach to neighborhoods where solar is already present, since neighbors of current solar customers will likely feel more comfortable with solar.


Understanding the psychological and social factors that impact the decision making process of homeowners considering solar can help contracting companies frame their marketing and sales communications. Findings from this study based on diffusion of innovations theory, offer insights into effective ways of engaging prospects and increasing solar sales success. In subsequent articles, we’ll discuss findings from two other behavioral theories that offer implications for solar customer acquisition.

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About This Series: Solar Sales Tips from 3 Theories of Solar Adoption

In 2016 the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) conducted a study that examined the decision making process of residential solar prospects through the lens of three behavioral theories. They sought to provide solar industry professionals with insights about the social and psychological factors influencing homeowners when they considered whether or not to adopt PV solar, in order to help increase the solar adoption rate.

In this three-part series, we look at each of these theories and discuss the key variables explored in the study and in related research. The series seeks to provide contractors information that can enhance their sales and marketing efforts.

Part 1. Increase Solar Sales Success with the Diffusion of Innovations Theory

Part 2. Solar Sales Insights from the Theory of Planned Behavior

Part 3. Coming soon! 

Topics: Solar Sales, Solar Marketing, Solar Sales Tips from 3 Theories of Solar Adoption

Don’t Give Up Too Soon on Solar Leads or Referrals

Posted by Sara Carbone on Apr 2, 2019 6:57:24 PM

For a capital-intensive technology like PV solar, trustworthy information is imperative. That means prospects often “turn to trusted information networks made up of family, friends, and neighbors…[to] benefit from and tap into the knowledge stock of existing users.” This means that referrals from past customers can be a particularly effective source of solar leads for contractors.

In a two-year study about customer acquisition in the solar industry, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found that it is common that solar contractors give up too soon on referrals from past customers, as well as some of their leads—whereas more persistence could generate additional sales.

In this article, the seventh and final article in our 7 NREL-Backed Ways to Close More Solar Sales series, we look at strategies for long-term follow up with potential solar leads and referral sources.

Outreach to old solar leads or past solar customers can generate solar sales in the long term.Periodic outreach to past customers can help maintain relationships that can generate future referrals. You may also want to occasionally follow up with solar leads that haven't closed, in case their circumstances have changed. Maintaining contact over the long term can help generate additional solar sales. 

See how Aurora Solar software can help you close more sales in a free  consultation.

About This Series and the Research by NREL

This Aurora Blog series examines seven common mistakes contractors make when selling solar identified by NREL, based on its 2014-2016 Solar Energy Evolution and Diffusion Study (SEEDS). In this study, NREL researchers aimed to ascertain why certain prospects adopt solar while others don’t, to provide solar contractors with insights to help lower the cost of customer acquisition.

The study involved surveys of homeowners from four states who installed solar, considered solar, or did not consider solar to understand their decision-making process. Researchers also gathered input from approximately thirty contracting companies on their solar sales processes.

Every article in this 7 NREL-Backed Ways to Close More Solar Sales series includes insights from an interview with one of the lead NREL researchers, plus information from the field and related research. In the first six articles of the series, we addressed rapid follow-up with solar leads, the need to avoid assumptions that prospects share your opinions about solar, not confusing customers with too many options, effectively addressing the competition, how to ask for referrals from customers, and keeping in touch with past customers.

Why It Pays to Persist

NREL stresses the importance of pursuing solar leads and referrals beyond when most solar contractors give up. Closing a sale with a prospect or securing a viable referral from a customer often requires persistence and strategy.

Not Giving Up On Leads Too Soon

NREL point out that most installers make the mistake of giving up on a lead within three months. Ben Sigrin, one of the NREL researchers, says that “sometimes installers have a touch point with a lead, and then if they get turned down they discard that lead or don't enter a reminder to follow up.”

He talks about the need to stay in touch with prospects over the long term. This is because a prospect’s situation can change. “What is right for them one year may not be right for them the next year. Maybe the household just had a new child so their electricity has gone up, or maybe they have a little more free cash flow than they did last year.” By periodically reaching out over the long term you are more likely to be top of mind when a prospect is ready to go solar.

Lifestyle changes can impact customers' interest in solar—one reason to keep in touch with old solar leads. People's needs can change over time; life events like a new child or a raise can make a solar purchase more relevant. Keeping in touch with old leads will help ensure your company is top-of-mind when they may be more ready to purchase. 

Sigrin also talks about staying organized and being selective with prospect outreach. This means managing your data so that you are tracking prospects’ changes and your touch points with them. As a result, you are better able to make decisions about how and when to reach out. As Sigrin says, “If you can't measure it, you can't manage it.”

Getting Referrals Later On Down The Line

Sigrin says that solar contractors tend to make a similar mistake when seeking referrals from customers. He notes that they often stop trying to get referrals after about six months. “There are a lot of opportunities to win a customer or referral after the initial three to six months… the earlier you give up, the more money you might be leaving on the table,” says Sigrin.

He suggests periodically asking for referrals over a long period of time: “we have heard of solar companies getting referrals from customers who had gone solar several years earlier.”

See how Aurora helps solar companies grow revenue, cut costs, and impress their  customers!

Strategic Outreach Over the Long Term

Additional sources confirm that persistent, strategic outreach for both leads and referrals can be beneficial. Matt Johnson, Residential Sales Manager at Namasté Solar, a leading employee-owned solar contracting cooperative based in Colorado, shared that his team has a systematic approach to staying in contact with prospects and existing customers over the long term.

Johnson explains, "we definitely have ongoing email drip campaigns.[1] We do email marketing to our existing customer base as well as new customers on a periodic basis. Typically, we'll do a quarterly email reminding folks about our referral program.” He adds that his team is careful to make sure they don’t inundate people by sending them emails every month.

It can be helpful to think of follow-up with solar leads and customers as having three elements: education that provides valuable information, repetition of the key messages you want to convey, and variety of channels such as direct mail, phone calls, emails, social media, and webinars.

Using a combination of phone calls and emails can be particularly effective. A follow-up email after a phone call can include relevant company materials, like a case study showing how solar can solve the challenge of high electricity bills or a blog article about what differentiates your company.

Finding a Balance When Following Up on Solar Leads

There are certain methods that can work particularly well for lead follow-up. Sales teams often focus on the hottest leads, which may mean the “warm” ones get neglected. Dan Kennedy, business coach and author of the book No B.S. Ruthless Management of People & Profits, states that this can be problematic.

“Instead of doing the tedious, follow-up grunt work, sales reps usually wait for a new batch of leads to come in. In the meantime, the warm leads from the last batch get cold, and they're soon forgotten.” It helps to strike a balance when deciding which kinds of leads to pursue over the long haul.

Of course, it also helps to know when to walk away so that you don’t waste resources on a dead end. Sometimes a solar system is clearly not a good fit for a prospect’s budget, or they are just not sold on the ROI after repeated conversations and review of educational materials.

Surprisingly, communicating that your outreach will cease can sometimes be what solicits a positive response. It may be that a prospect was busy but was interested and the communications you sent left a positive impression. Marketing company HubSpot writes that this can mean that the prospect was “relying on you, like every other salesperson, to keep trying to get in front of them.” HubSpot also points out that a final email is often the one that gets the highest response rate.

Periodic emails or newsletters can be an easy way to stay in touch with past customers as well as solar leads. Periodic emails or newsletters can be an easy way to stay in touch with past customers as well as solar leads. 

Timing and Creativity When Pursuing Referrals

Matt Johnson at Namasté Solar notes that their company has multiple points in their relationship with a customer where they reference the referral program. The referral program is mentioned during the proposal development process, at the time of the installation, and after the installation via follow-up email campaigns from their marketing department.

Johnson highlights post-installation as a key time for follow-up requests for referrals, as customers may not be ready to refer until then. He states, "most people tend to be much more willing to make referrals once they see results and are satisfied."

In an article based on the same 2014-2016 SEEDS study discussed in this series, NREL’s Ben Sigrin and several other researchers wrote that long-time customers tend to be the most valuable referral sources. They write that “it’s worth checking in with existing customers from time to time, especially the long-time ones who can attest to the long-term solar experience.”

They also suggest being creative about how you ask customers to refer, given that people are busy. Customers may be open to placing a small sign on their lawn, posting a testimonial on social media, or hosting a solar party. While these aren’t direct referrals, they can be a great way for you to reach their network. In fact, one study estimates that increased peer-to-peer interaction, such as talking with a neighbor who installed solar, can potentially “decrease individual decision times by over six months.”

House with solar panels. Interaction with neighbors or other peers with solar can help solar prospects decide.Get creative about how you ask solar customers to refer others; a sign on their lawn or a recommendation on solar media can be as smaller ask with big results. Studies show peer-to-peer interactions about solar can decrease decision making time for people considering a solar purchase. 

Additional Solutions for Outreach

There are a variety of additional strategies to consider when staying in touch with solar leads and referral sources. Johnson talks about how Namasté Solar distributes a quarterly email reminding people about their referral program. You can send out periodic newsletters to customers with tips on deciphering bill and understanding savings as well as invitations to customer events and other opportunities. Test the frequency of your outreach to find what works best for your company and customers.

Keep your prospect and customer database organized and use relevant tools, like a customer relationship management (CRM) software, to ensure systematic follow-up. Consider offering a robust referral program with incentives and encourage sharing via social media.

You might also consider designating someone to keep your solar leads warm when sales staff is not actively reaching out to them. Kennedy writes that “every business has a lead generation department (marketing) and a lead closing department (sales), but they’re lacking a lead warming department.”

No matter how you maintain contact with prospects and past customers, being in communication with them over the long term can be a valuable way to gain new customers.

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[1] If you're unfamiliar with the term, a drip campaign refers to a series of messages sent on a predetermined schedule—typically a drip campaign is sent by email though it can also include other methods of outreach. They can be a great way to share information about your company and keep in touch with prospects over a period of time.

 


About This Series: 7 NREL-Backed Ways to Close More Solar Sales

Between 2014 and 2016 the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) conducted a Solar Energy Evolution and Diffusion Study (SEEDS) study. The study sought to better understand the decision making process of potential residential solar customers in to help solar industry professionals identify ways to reduce customer acquisition costs. Following completion of the study, NREL highlighted seven common solar sales mistakes identified in their research.

In this seven-part series, we delve into each of these seven mistakes in more depth, based on a conversation with one of the lead NREL researchers, as well as on-the-ground perspectives from solar contractors and exploration of related research.

Part 1. Boost Your Solar Sales Success With Faster Lead Follow Up

Part 2. Avoid Lost Solar Sales by Understanding Leads’ Perspectives

Part 3. Engage Solar Leads with the Right Use of Choice

Part 4. How to Effectively Address the Competition in Your Solar Sales

Part 5. Stop Missing Out on Solar Customer Referrals

Part 6. Why and How to Keep In Touch with Past Solar Customers

Part 7. Don’t Give Up Too Soon on Solar Leads or Referrals

Topics: Solar Sales, NREL-Backed Ways to Close More Solar Sales

Stop Missing Out on Solar Customer Referrals

Posted by Sara Carbone on Mar 15, 2019 10:26:50 AM

Solar is a highly competitive industry and a chronic issue for contractors is the high cost of customer acquisition. While the average cost of customer acquisition is $2,000-4,000, solar companies typically pay about $500 per referral, making referrals an affordable source of high quality, exclusive solar leads. Additionally, according to Nielsen, 83% of surveyed consumers say recommendations from people they know are their most trusted source of information.

But it’s not always straightforward how to get referrals. You might ask customers to keep referrals in mind but your request is easily forgotten. The customer may not think about their PV system on a daily basis or know how to identify good candidates for solar in their network.

However, there are ways to increase the likelihood of referrals, many of which involve the way you follow up. In this article, Part 5 in our 7 NREL-Backed Ways to Close More Solar Sales series, we address effective strategies for asking for referrals from customers.

The NREL Study and This Series

This Aurora Blog series looks at seven common mistakes contractors make when selling solar according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). NREL’s observations are based on its 2014-2016 Solar Energy Evolution and Diffusion Study (SEEDS).

The NREL study was conducted to understand why some prospective customers adopt solar while others don’t—in order to offer insights to help solar contractors lower their customer acquisition costs. NREL researchers surveyed homeowners from four states who installed solar, considered solar, or did not consider solar, and also gathered insights on sales processes from interviews with approximately thirty solar contracting companies.

In each article in this series, we offer insights from an interview with one of the lead NREL researchers, as well as observations from the field and related research. In the first four parts of the 7 NREL-Backed Ways to Close More Solar Sales series, we looked at following up quickly with solar leads, not assuming prospects share your opinions about solar, being careful to avoid confusing customers with too many options and how to address the competition effectively.

customer and salesman shaking handsLearning how to ask for referrals effectively can help you generate a pipeline of cost-effective new leads. 

See how Aurora Solar software can help you close more sales in a free  consultation.

Strategies for Success When Asking for Referrals

The NREL researchers state that many sales reps don’t actually ask for referrals, or ask ineffectively, such as by using timid phrasing or only asking in passing. It helps to be strategic about how you approach the process of asking for referrals to maximize success.

Find the Right Timing

In our interview with NREL researcher Ben Sigrin, he highlighted that understanding the optimum time to ask for referrals is important. He notes that NREL’s study asked questions like “do referrals tend to be generated immediately after the contract is signed, after the first month of interconnection, or years after interconnection? And how does the quality of the referral depend on that?”

Sigrin asserts that contractors should be sure to ask about referrals after the system is activated and beyond. He describes the customer’s perspective in this way: “If I'm referring someone before my system is connected, then I don't have any experience about whether the system is performing according to my expectations. But if I have had it for several years, then I am probably a more reliable source of information for my friends and family, because I can speak to how it's actually performed over the last few years.” Therefore, says Sigrin, consistent, long-term follow up is key, whether in the form of a periodic check-in, a “solar party” or other event with your customers, or physical reminders like a referral card or gift.

Pamela Cargill, former Principal of solar management consulting firm Chaolysti, concurs, noting that the best time may be after the installation is complete and the customer has received the first utility bill showing solar savings so “you’re likely to catch them on a high note.”

It also helps to think of the customer relationship as one that exists over the long term, beyond the installation. Matt Johnson, Residential Sales Manager at Namasté Solar, a leading employee-owned solar contracting cooperative based in Colorado, points out that having multiple touch points leading up to and after installation helps capitalize on the fact that “most people tend to be much more willing to make referrals once they see results and are satisfied.”

Engage the Customers That Want to Refer

Namasté Solar's Matt Johnson also notes that, to increase the likelihood of referrals, it is important to identify customers who are most likely to refer and focus your efforts on them. He reports that Namasté Solar’s market research has revealed that although some people “are never going to refer anybody just because they don't make referrals for anything,” an estimated 20% of customers will refer more than one person. He calls these people “solar advocates.” 

happy solar customers that might be willing to referSome solar customers—who Matt Johnson, Residential Sales Manager at Namasté Solar refers to as "solar advocates"—are likely to refer a disproportionate number of customers. It may make sense to focus additional efforts on making sure these strong proponents are empowered to refer. 

Johnson describes how Namasté Solar takes note of these customers’ willingness to refer. “We try to mark those individuals in our system when our sales staff or project managers feel like they're a solar advocate. We then direct more of our marketing efforts towards those people, reaching out to them more proactively to try and help them generate even more referrals.” He adds that providing a cash incentive for referral is effective as well.

NREL’s 2014-2016 SEEDS research also looked at the willingness of solar customers to refer others. Writing in GTM, several of the study's authors including Sigrin, report that in their survey of 1,662 solar adopters 80% reported making referrals (the median amount being three). While they acknowledge that the customers in their survey may have been “early adopters”—who could be more likely to refer—it’s clear that effectively asking for referrals could result in a lot of new business opportunities for your company.

Other research has also found that many businesses fail to take advantage of consumers’ willingness to refer. A Texas Tech study found that 83% of satisfied customers are willing to refer others, but only 29% actually do, partly because they were never asked to do so. Don’t assume that good service alone will result in a referral without asking or let discomfort get in way of the ask. The inbound marketing experts at HubSpot suggest a substantial percentage of your customers are willing to have a conversation about referrals, “but not unless you bring it up. Not all of them will give you referrals on the spot, but some will do so over time.”

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Six Solutions to Maximize Solar Referrals

In addition to asking for referrals at the right time and trying to identify the customers that are likely to be your biggest advocates, there are a number of different strategies to consider that may make it easier to get referrals. Here are a few tactics you may want to consider as you work to increase the number of clients you get through referrals.

1. Experiment with Other Phrasing

Consider other language aside from the word ‘referral.’ This could mean asking questions like, “Is there anyone else I might be able to help?”, “Do you know anyone else who would want to learn about solar?”, or “Who do you know that’s concerned about their electric bill?”

2. Provide a Template

If your client is interested in referring but not sure where to start, they may appreciate pointers on what to say or how to approach the topic. You could suggest that they share their experience on their social media platforms with photos or feedback about the install process or their bill savings (or provide them with nice photos or sample language if you want).

3. Make Your Content Easy to Share

Making your content, like blog posts and case studies, sharable is a great way to tap into your customer’s networks and maybe spark some conversations about their experience. Add a 'Share This With a Friend' link to the educational and marketing information that you provide to customers.

4. Create Incentivized Customer Loyalty or Referral Programs

As Johnson notes, referral programs with incentives can be helpful. To support this, you could consider creating your own referral app to offer customers or using an existing one like GetTheReferral. Some companies include solar system monitoring and review capabilities as well with these apps.

5. Deliver Top-Notch Service

Another strategy is to simply deliver an excellent customer experience because when this happens, customers are much more likely to provide a referral. Meet or exceed a customer’s expectations during all stages of the installation, including before and after.

Pam Cargill states that “making customers feel comfortable involves spending a lot of time educating and communicating with them…[ensure] the expectations you set during the sales process are true, realistic and carried through during project delivery.” Ultimately, she asserts, it is a satisfying customer experience and not the sales process that will be “more likely to lead to them referring.”

6. Keep in Touch

Finally, as discussed above, make sure to stay in touch over time. Carefully manage the timing of your follow up throughout the sales process and after the install. Cargill suggests finding where you can automate certain aspects of the communication process during sales to help you track how often the follow up occurs. Additionally, look to set reminders in the calendar or CRM to ensure that your team will periodically check in with customers. 


As NREL’s Sigrin puts it, “installers should look to keep high levels of customer satisfaction and find ways to solicit referrals from customers” including finding“ways to reconnect and remind their customers without unnecessarily annoying them." This, he says, is good business practice.

Given how referrals can provide a very cost-effective source of solar leads in an industry with high customer acquisition costs, having powerful strategies for making your customers a good source of referrals can be vital to your company’s success.

Have you found other approaches to getting more referrals? Let us know in the comments below!

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About This Series: 7 NREL-Backed Ways to Close More Solar Sales

Between 2014 and 2016 the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) conducted a Solar Energy Evolution and Diffusion Study (SEEDS) study. The study sought to better understand the decision making process of potential residential solar customers to help solar industry professionals identify ways to reduce customer acquisition costs. Following completion of the study, NREL highlighted seven common solar sales mistakes identified in their research.

In this seven-part series, we delve into each of these seven mistakes in more depth, based on a conversation with one of the lead NREL researchers, as well as on-the-ground perspectives from solar contractors and exploration of related research.

Part 1. Boost Your Solar Sales Success With Faster Lead Follow Up

Part 2. Avoid Lost Solar Sales by Understanding Leads’ Perspectives

Part 3. Engage Solar Leads with the Right Use of Choice

Part 4. How to Effectively Address the Competition in Your Solar Sales

Part 5. Stop Missing Out on Solar Customer Referrals

Part 6. Why and How to Keep In Touch with Past Solar Customers

Part 7. Don’t Give Up Too Soon on Solar Leads or Referrals

Topics: Solar Sales, NREL-Backed Ways to Close More Solar Sales

How to Effectively Address the Competition in Your Solar Sales

Posted by Sara Carbone on Mar 8, 2019 12:48:50 PM

These days the American solar industry is highly competitive. GTM points to “intense competition” as one cause of rising customer acquisition costs since installers "spend more money to win a bid." Addressing the competition is a necessary part of most solar sales conversations.

However, talking about the sales competition in your conversations with prospects takes careful thought. This is particularly true given the sensitivity of the subject and the fact that prospective customers may not yet be sold on solar itself, let alone who will install it. GTM reports, “solar companies are far more likely to lose considerers to uncertainty and doubt than to other competitors.”

Avoiding mistakes in your conversations with prospects, particularly with regard to how you discuss your sales competition, is important given the challenges of customer acquisition. In this article, Part 4 in our 7 NREL-Backed Ways to Close More Solar Sales series, we look at how to effectively address the competition in your solar sales conversations.

See how Aurora Solar software can help you close more sales in a free  consultation.

The NREL Study and This Series

In this Aurora Blog series, we examine seven common mistakes contractors make when selling solar. These mistakes were identified by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) based on its 2014-2016 Solar Energy Evolution and Diffusion Study (SEEDS) study.

NREL’s 2014-2016 SEEDS study was conducted to ascertain why particular prospects adopt solar while others don’t, to provide solar contractors with insights to lower customer acquisition costs. It surveyed homeowners from four states who installed solar, considered solar, or did not consider solar, to understand factors that affected their decision making. It also included input from approximately thirty solar contracting companies.

In each article in this series, we share observations from an interview with one of the lead NREL researchers, as well as insights from the field and related research. In the first three parts of the 7 NREL-Backed Ways to Close More Solar Sales series, we focused on the importance of quick follow-up with solar leads, not assuming prospects share your opinions about solar, and not confusing customers with too many options.

Choosing the Right Time to Bring Up the Sales Competition

NREL researcher Ben Sigrin discusses the perils of criticizing the competition before the customer is completely sold on the idea of going solar. The researchers acknowledge the need to “sell against the competition” but state that “doing so when solar prospects are not fully engaged with solar will hurt not just your competitor, but you, too.”

He suggests that understanding the stages of a prospective customer’s decision-making process can help contractors address competition effectively. He describes the idea that awareness and interest come before the evaluation process, when customers weigh options like which contractors to go with.

Ushering a customer beyond the awareness stage means avoiding scare tactics. As Sigrin acknowledges, “no doubt, it's tempting to try to get to the customers first by spiking the other guys' offer with some good, old-fashioned F.U.D.—fear, uncertainty, and doubt.” But he emphasizes that using such tactics in your sales strategy is more likely to scare prospects away from going solar altogether.

Understanding The Customer’s Decision Making Process

Research has shown the value of knowing the customer decision making stages. The fundamental idea is that a consumer moves through various stages on their journey to making a purchase in a sales conversation. A funnel is a helpful metaphor for understanding how this process occurs. That’s because as consumers move through the stages, the number of viable customers decreases. The select ones that reach the bottom of the funnel have progressed to the point where they are ready to make a purchase.

The stages as they relate to solar are: awareness (about solar and what it can provide), interest (enthusiasm about the idea of going solar and/or feeling it is feasible for them), decision (assessing various vendors), and action (committing to buying a system). A final stage would be advocacy (acting as an ambassador for solar adoption).

In your solar sales conversations, try to get a sense of where your prospect might be. This can help you and the members of your sales team address their needs and avoid any missteps. This is particularly useful given that prospects are likely coming to the conversation from different points.

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A Sales Strategy That Focuses on the Relationship

Studies reveal that it might be worthwhile to consider not bringing up competitors at all or avoiding being too negative. You may want to think about keeping the criticism brief and carefully consider how you want your team to approach the sales competition when they do discuss it.

Your team may want to focus more on establishing a positive relationship than disparaging competitors. “Your prospect doesn’t want to know why someone is bad; they want to know why you’re the person they should work with. By focusing your sales strategy on how you can help prospects achieve their goals, you’ll earn their trust and show them why nobody can compete with you,” according to LinkedIn.

Linda Richardson, founder of the sales training firm Richardson and author of numerous books on sales, describes two important aspects of selling against the competition. One is knowing how your offering differs from that of the competition so that a customer might find your product or service more attractive. The other is guiding the conversation with a prospect so that the superiority of your offering becomes clear.

Richardson recommends that you avoid bad-mouthing a competitor because it can give the impression of pettiness, making your competitor look good in comparison. Instead, consider asking questions about your customer’s needs that get the prospect thinking about differences in how you and competitors would meet those needs. For instance, are they looking for a personal touch from a local company that you can deliver better than some larger competitors?

Writing in Forbes, author and sales expert Ian Altman agrees that focusing on what the customer needs is more effective than bashing the sales competition. He emphasizes that you want customers “to select you because they feel you best understand their situation and they see you as most likely to deliver the best value”—not because they felt there were no other good options.

Solutions for Success

As a salesperson, learning how to understand where the customer is in the decision-making process is a good first step in finding the right time to address competition in the conversation. This might mean asking certain questions, or identifying signs that they have moved beyond the early stages and are ready for more detailed information about making the purchase. These signs could include asking questions about pricing and terms or what solar is capable of in some scenario related to their specific situation.

Whatever you choose to do, be cautious about disparaging the competition and focus on positively highlighting the unique value your company adds. This can go a long way towards avoiding missed sales opportunities.

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About This Series: 7 NREL-Backed Ways to Close More Solar Sales

Between 2014 and 2016 the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) conducted a Solar Energy Evolution and Diffusion Study (SEEDS) study. The study sought to better understand the decision making process of potential residential solar customers to help solar industry professionals identify ways to reduce customer acquisition costs. Following completion of the study, NREL highlighted seven common solar sales mistakes identified in their research.

In this seven-part series, we delve into each of these seven mistakes in more depth, based on a conversation with one of the lead NREL researchers, as well as on-the-ground perspectives from solar contractors and exploration of related research.

Part 1. Boost Your Solar Sales Success With Faster Lead Follow Up

Part 2. Avoid Lost Solar Sales by Understanding Leads’ Perspectives

Part 3. Engage Solar Leads with the Right Use of Choice

Part 4. How to Effectively Address the Competition in Your Solar Sales

Part 5. Stop Missing Out on Solar Customer Referrals

Part 6. Why and How to Keep In Touch with Past Solar Customers

Part 7. Don’t Give Up Too Soon on Solar Leads or Referrals

Topics: Solar Sales, NREL-Backed Ways to Close More Solar Sales

Engage Solar Leads with the Right Use of Choices

Posted by Sara Carbone on Feb 27, 2019 10:29:03 AM

Have you ever done an Amazon search and ended up so overwhelmed by the number of choices that you just gave up or decided to shelve the search until later? Ever landed on a homepage of a website with so many options you didn’t know where to click? That same phenomenon can apply in solar.

Contrary to what you might expect, too many choices can actually be harmful when selling solar. While offering a large number of solar choices might sound like service to a prospective customer, in reality too many options can make decision making difficult and lead to fewer solar sales.

Solar leads are a valuable and often expensive commodity, so it is important to be aware of mistakes—like overwhelming prospects with too many choices—that can interfere with closing the sale. In this article, Part 3 of our 7 NREL-Backed Ways to Close More Solar Sales series, we examine why giving a customer too many options in a solar sales conversation can be problematic.

See how Aurora Solar software can help you close more sales in a free  consultation.

About This Series and Related NREL Research

In this series, we look at seven common mistakes contractors make when selling solar identified by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in a study conducted from 2014 to 2016. This Solar Energy Evolution and Diffusion Study (SEEDS) study was conducted to learn more about why certain customers adopt solar while others don’t, in order to help solar contractors lower customer acquisition costs.

The study surveyed homeowners in four states and worked with approximately thirty solar contracting companies. It also included the application of mathematical modeling and testing.

It was conducted by NREL, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, and behavioral scientists and psychologists at a variety of universities, with funding from the Solar Energy Technologies Office at the US Department of Energy.

In our series on the seven common solar sales mistakes identified from this research, we explore each one in more depth based a conversation with one of the lead NREL researchers, related research, and real-world perspectives from solar contractors. In the first two parts, we discussed the importance of quick solar lead follow-up and avoiding assumptions that solar leads share your opinion about solar.

The Right Number of Options

In almost every solar sales conversation, understanding the perspective of your solar lead is essential. According to NREL’s findings, a key component of that is finding the approach that offers them enough options without inundating them.

Ben Sigrin, one of the lead researchers on the study, asserts that "people tend to assume that more actions are better, but—and I'm sure many people can relate to this—sometimes having more options is confusing and can be overwhelming.” He points out that for a wavering prospect, feeling the pressure to make a whole lot of decisions can push them to default to inaction or to stick with what they know—getting their electricity from the utility.

Sigrin does emphasize that prospects often want solar choices, just not in excessive amounts. He says, “sometimes I think it is in the salesperson's best interest to define a few options that show different ends of the spectrum and not overwhelm the customer with choice."

It’s wise to tailor the options you offer to the particular solar lead, since customers who are less knowledgeable about solar tend to want more direction, while more sophisticated customers may appreciate a wider range of options.

Offering fewer options in a solar sales conversation can let customers focus on the choices that matter
Offering a smaller number of options, such as solar design configurations, based on your solar expertise, can help the solar customer avoid being overwhelmed by choice. 

Tyson Peschke, Co-Founder and Chief Revenue Officer of Blue Raven Solar, agrees with the idea that it is important to avoid overwhelming prospects with too many choices. Blue Raven Solar is a leading solar installation company operating in ten states. He says his sales team keeps it simple to engage customers and establish trust.

“You don't want to explain to customers how 10 different panels work so they think they have to choose the one that best fits them,” Peschke explains. “You want to let them know that ‘panels are basically the same, except for, say, these two things. And we've chosen these two panels because we feel like they represent the best value’.”

He says that this kind of approach sets prospects up to trust you—the contractor—because you are helping to reduce the number of decisions they need to make so they can focus on the ones that really matter.

See how Aurora helps solar companies grow revenue, cut costs, and impress their  customers!

The Hazard of Choice Overload

Other studies support the idea that too many options in sales conversations can impede the process. One phenomenon identified by psychologists is choice overload. This is the idea that when a prospect does not have a very specific sense of what they want or a clear way to categorize choices, they tend to feel discomfort over the number of products to choose from.

Choice overload can derail a sales conversation. Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, asserts that choice overload can lead to anxiety, dissatisfaction, bad decisions, and decision paralysis. These negative emotions can distract from the decision itself, impairing decision-making abilities and causing someone to postpone or avoid making a decision. Schwartz writes, “Even if you've made a good decision, when your choice isn't perfect, knowing there were alternatives out there makes it easy to imagine you could have made a better choice.”

A study about limited choice vs. extensive choice demonstrated this when customers in a store were asked to sample jams. The study found that only 3% of those who sampled 24 flavors made a purchase, while 30% of those who sampled 6 flavors made a purchase. The authors of the study state that too many options can lead people to choose not to choose even when it goes against their self interest.

Too many choices can undermine solar sales by giving the customer choice overload.Too many choices can overwhelm a customer and make them less likely to make a choice at all.  

Using Choice Effectively in Your Solar Sales Conversations

There are a number of ways you can work with sales staff to present solar choices without overwhelming prospects. Emphasizing simplicity and clarity is one; as Peschke puts it, look at how to offer “fewer options, more clear choices. Three is better than ten options.” Work with them to make choosing easier for prospects by keeping decisions real, immediate and concrete, and focused around a specific, positive outcome.

Additionally, help your team remember to tailor their approach to the customer's level of understanding. As Ty Simpson, Regional Sales Manager of Bland Solar, says, “solar is not sales, it’s education. You’re teaching something unorthodox... Getting people to that a-ha moment.” However you help prospects find that a-ha moment, understanding how to effectively present options in the conversations is a key factor in facilitating their solar sales decision.

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  About This Series: 7 NREL-Backed Ways to Close More Solar Sales

Between 2014 and 2016 the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) conducted a Solar Energy Evolution and Diffusion Study (SEEDS) study. The study sought to better understand the decision making process of potential residential solar customers to help solar industry professionals identify ways to reduce customer acquisition costs. Following completion of the study, NREL highlighted seven common solar sales mistakes identified in their research.

In this seven-part series, we delve into each of these seven mistakes in more depth, based on a conversation with one of the lead NREL researchers, as well as on-the-ground perspectives from solar contractors and exploration of related research.

Part 1. Boost Your Solar Sales Success With Faster Lead Follow Up

Part 2. Avoid Lost Solar Sales by Understanding Leads’ Perspectives

Part 3. Engage Solar Leads with the Right Use of Choice

Part 4. How to Effectively Address the Competition in Your Solar Sales

Part 5. Stop Missing Out on Solar Customer Referrals

Part 6. Why and How to Keep In Touch with Past Solar Customers

Part 7. Don’t Give Up Too Soon on Solar Leads or Referrals

Topics: Solar Sales, NREL-Backed Ways to Close More Solar Sales

Avoid Lost Solar Sales by Understanding Leads’ Perspectives

Posted by Sara Carbone on Feb 13, 2019 3:05:58 PM

The cost of customer acquisition in the solar industry is high and continues to rise. In 2018 the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) reported that customer acquisition costs had been steadily increasing over the previous four quarters, and two years earlier, GTM put the average cost of customer acquisition at $0.52 per watt.

This, in addition to increasing competition and market saturation, means that solar contracting companies want to use their most effective strategies when trying to win prospective customers (leads). In an effort to help contractors avoid pitfalls that could jeopardize solar sales, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) conducted a study to comprehend why certain customers adopt solar while others don’t.

This series examines seven common solar sales mistakes NREL identified through its study, based on a conversation with one of the lead NREL researchers, additional related research, and real-world insights from solar contractors. In Part 1 of our 7 NREL-Backed Ways to Close More Solar Sales series, we explored the importance of quick solar lead follow-up. In this second article, we explore problems associated with assuming prospective customers share your opinion about solar.

See how Aurora Solar software can help you close more sales in a free  consultation.

About NREL’s Study

Funded by the Solar Energy Technologies Office at the US Department of Energy, NREL’s 2014-2016 Solar Energy Evolution and Diffusion Study (SEEDS) study was conducted by NREL researchers, members of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, and a number of academics in behavioral science and psychology. The team surveyed homeowners in four states, collaborated with approximately thirty solar contracting companies, and applied mathematical modeling and testing to their results.

The study sought to better understand the decision making process of potential residential solar customers in an effort to help solar industry professionals identify ways to reduce customer acquisition costs.

The Importance of Avoiding Assumptions

NREL’s study found that understanding the customer's perspective is essential in a solar sales conversation. Doing this helps you refrain from making assumptions about the solar lead’s level of interest and makes you better able to address their needs. 

Customers sometimes have concerns or misconceptions about solar. These may be feelings related to system aesthetics, installation and maintenance expense, or ROI. Ben Sigrin, one of the lead researchers on the study, explains that there is a lot of variation in how homeowners perceive solar, and that many have particular misconceptions about solar’s economics and backup capabilities. He says that consumers may have “a lack of understanding of how the economics of solar work: how much it costs, how much will be saved on their bill, what the payback period will be.”

Additionally, Sigrin states that “some consumers assume that solar will always provide backup power during a grid outage, and that's not always true. They should be made aware of whether it is or isn't.” Ultimately, it is important to ensure that your enthusiasm about solar doesn't lead you to overlook these kinds of potential misconceptions or assume the customer shares your excitement about solar’s benefits.

Assuming a lead shares your opinions about solar or failing to address misconceptions can result in lost solar sales.Assuming your prospective customer shares your opinions about solar, or failing to understand misconceptions they may have, can lead to missed solar sales opportunities.

Patrick Perry, Director of Sales at Momentum Solar—one of the fastest-growing solar companies in the nation, with an impressive 4,617% revenue growth over the last 3 years—agreed that it is important to be mindful of a customer’s misconceptions. Perry points out that consumers sometimes have misconceptions about solar partly because “internet research can provide some useful information, but also could provide inaccurate information as well."

Perry explains that for his team, “providing clarity and perspective is our goal. Our approach is an educational one.” As a starting point, his team seeks to carefully “determine what the customer knows about solar, what their needs are, and where they got their information—whether it be from a friend or family or their own internet research.” By understanding this, Perry explains, they are then able to provide clarity to help the customer comprehend solar’s benefits.

Listening to Understand

Other experts in solar and sales emphasize the need to appreciate the customer’s perspective in sales conversations. Jim Jenal is the founder and CEO of Pasadena, California-based solar installation company and regularly writes about commercial solar and customer service. He talks about the importance of understanding where your solar lead is coming from: “knowing the concerns, wishes, and assumptions of the [prospect] allows you to anticipate their needs so you can offer them the best experience and clearest understanding of how solar can improve their bottom line.”

Ivan Misner, Founder of Business Network International, explains that a lot of selling has to do with finding what the customer wants. Misner states, “buyers are multifaceted, and when they shop, they weigh the many pros and cons of a potential purchase... Learning and adapting to the issues and whims of the buyer while moving the sale forward to a conclusion is a complex and intricate task – and it’s the responsibility of the sales professional to ensure it happens.”

An integral part of adapting your approach so as to guide the solar lead through this process is listening carefully to understand what factors the customer might be weighing regarding solar.

Active listening during the solar sales conversation can help you understand and address concerns of your solar leadsActively listening to prospective customers’ concerns and ideas about solar can help you more effectively address what’s important to them—and have a greater likelihood of closing the sale.

Listening is a key aspect of being able to effectively adapt in your solar sales conversation. Active listening is the art of asking thoughtful questions for true understanding and “making sure that you concentrate, respond, and remember what was heard.” Not only do you learn a customer's perspective, you build trust by validating what they feel.


It is possible to help your sales team avoid the pitfalls of making assumptions in solar sales conversations. Training in how to anticipate and identify customer concerns or mistaken ideas about solar can help them address issues as they come up. Understanding the basic principles of active listening to build trust may also be beneficial, as might an approach that emphasizes clarity and education, like that of Momentum Solar. Whatever path you choose, avoiding jumping to conclusions in your solar sales conversations can go a long way towards success.

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About This Series: 7 NREL-Backed Ways to Close More Solar Sales

Between 2014 and 2016 the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) conducted a Solar Energy Evolution and Diffusion Study (SEEDS) study. The study sought to better understand the decision making process of potential residential solar customers in to help solar industry professionals identify ways to reduce customer acquisition costs. Following completion of the study, NREL highlighted seven common solar sales mistakes identified in their research.

In this seven-part series, we delve into each of these seven mistakes in more depth, based on a conversation with one of the lead NREL researchers, as well as on-the-ground perspectives from solar contractors and exploration of related research.

Part 1. Boost Your Solar Sales Success With Faster Lead Follow Up

Part 2. Avoid Lost Solar Sales by Understanding Leads’ Perspectives

Part 3. Engage Solar Leads with the Right Use of Choice

Part 4. How to Effectively Address the Competition in Your Solar Sales

Part 5. Stop Missing Out on Solar Customer Referrals

Part 6. Why and How to Keep In Touch with Past Solar Customers

Part 7. Don’t Give Up Too Soon on Solar Leads or Referrals

Topics: Solar Sales, NREL-Backed Ways to Close More Solar Sales

Boost Your Solar Sales Success With Faster Lead Follow Up

Posted by Sara Carbone on Feb 7, 2019 4:38:19 PM

Customer acquisition is one of the biggest challenges for solar companies and one of their most significant costs. Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables reported residential customer acquisition costs of $3,668 per customer in 2016 and projected 2017 costs of $3,898 per customer.

This means that when you connect with a prospective customer it’s critical to avoid mistakes that could cost you the sale. Findings from a National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) study of factors that influence homeowners to install solar offer insights into some of the most common mistakes contractors make during a sale.

“For residential-scale solar, the costs of customer acquisition remain high in this industry. There are many different figures on the exact cost and these change over time, but certainly on the order of thousands of dollars per successful client is spent developing the pipeline of leads,” says Ben Sigrin, one of the NREL researchers who led the study.

“Our goal in this project was to understand better the decision making of potential customers that are considering adopting solar for their home, in order to be able to help solar developers and other industry stakeholders identify pathways to reducing customer acquisition costs.”

This series, 7 NREL-Backed Ways to Close More Solar Sales, we will explore in more depth each of several solar sales mistakes identified NREL, based on a discussion with one of the lead NREL researchers, reviews of related studies, and real-world perspectives from solar contractors. Today’s article, Part 1, explores why not following up with leads fast enough can be problematic.  

See how Aurora Solar software can help you close more sales in a free  consultation.

About the Study

This research, NREL’s 2014-2016 Solar Energy Evolution and Diffusion Study (SEEDS) study, was funded by the Solar Energy Technologies Office at the US Department of Energy. The work was conducted by a team comprised of individuals from NREL, the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, and several renowned academics in the behavioral science and psychology fields.

The team conducted surveys of homeowners in California, Arizona, New Jersey, and New York. The survey group included homeowners who had adopted solar, homeowners who had considered solar but decided not to purchase, and some who had never considered solar.

NREL collaborated with approximately thirty solar contracting companies who offered firsthand perspectives on their solar sales processes and helped the researchers connect with prospective solar customers surveyed in the study. Other aspects of the study included mathematical modeling and testing to understand spatial behavioral drivers of adoption and examine the impact of policy and neighborhood changes.

The Need For Quick Turnaround with Leads

One of the key insights offered by the study’s findings is the importance of following up with a lead as quickly as possible. Interest in solar is often triggered by an event like an exorbitant electric bill, advertisement, or referral from a friend, and the further removed the person is from the event when you reach out, the less likely they are to go solar. Sigrin states that “through the data, we did find that installers that are able to have a quick turnaround tended to have more successful outcomes.”

Tyson Peschke is Co-Founder and Chief Revenue Officer of Blue Raven Solar, one of the fastest growing solar companies in the nation and a top-10 solar company in the U.S. Though not familiar with NREL’s data on this topic, Peschke intuitively agreed that contacting a prospect right away while solar is front of mind can help improve the likelihood of success.

He observes that “If I know it's the right moment to talk to that person because they just put their information in, they're much more likely, in theory, to answer my call than if I wait 10 minutes. If it's on a customer's mind, it's the right moment; if not, it's very easy for them to decide they’ll talk to you some other time. So for me, it absolutely rings true that if you can get them within 10 seconds, they haven't moved on. If you wait too long, it is very likely they’ve moved on to a different train of thought and then you’ll have to re-engage their interest.”

Interest in solar is often triggered by an event, like a bill. Quick follow up can at that time can increase solar sales.Interest in solar is often triggered by an event, like a utility high bill. Responding quickly can capitalize on that interest and help you close more solar sales.

The Problem with Waiting Too Long

Other research supports the idea that slow follow up with leads can be a pain point for solar sales. A 2015 study of solar selling methods demonstrated that solar companies are not always quick to respond to an inquiry. The researchers filled in online inquiry forms for solar contractors during business hours and tracked responses for 22 days. Only 46% of their inquiries received at least one phone call and one email from sellers, and almost 40% of inquiries did not receive a response for several weeks or at all.

Other studies have found that the quality of a lead does indeed degrade over time, as seen in a 2007 Lead Response Management study. The study found that the odds of making successful contact with a lead were 100 times greater when contact is attempted within 5 minutes of the lead submitting their information, compared to 30 minutes. It also found that the odds of a lead entering the sales process were 21 times greater for that same time frame.

Another study that examined 3.5 million leads found that a call attempted within a minute of receiving a lead increased conversion rates by 391%; comparatively, the study found only a 17% improvement in conversion rates when leads were contacted within 5-24 hours.

Solar Sales CallPrioritizing quick follow up with prospective solar customers is a key element of and effective solar sales process. 

Finding Solutions

There are a number of possible solutions to the issue of quick lead follow-up, and it’s wise to put some thought into what creative options would help your company reach out to prospective customers as efficiently as possible.

Solutions could include a chatbot that gives website visitors quick answers to their questions and the satisfaction of an instant response or an automated email response for web inquiries. An effective CRM system that allows you to precisely track interactions with prospective customers is also essential—both to assess how well your company is performing in regard to response times and to make sure that no leads fall through the cracks.

However you approach your lead follow-up strategy, finding ways to be as responsive as possible to prospective customers can help you maximize your chances of a fruitful outcome.

Enjoyed this article? Subscribe to the Aurora Blog for our latest updates! 


About This Series: 7 NREL-Backed Ways to Close More Solar Sales

Between 2014 and 2016 the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) conducted a Solar Energy Evolution and Diffusion Study (SEEDS) study. The study sought to better understand the decision making process of potential residential solar customers in to help solar industry professionals identify ways to reduce customer acquisition costs. Following completion of the study, NREL highlighted seven common solar sales mistakes identified in their research.

In this seven-part series, we delve into each of these seven mistakes in more depth, based on a conversation with one of the lead NREL researchers, as well as on-the-ground perspectives from solar contractors and exploration of related research.

Part 1. Boost Your Solar Sales Success With Faster Lead Follow Up

Part 2. Avoid Lost Solar Sales by Understanding Leads’ Perspectives

Part 3. Engage Solar Leads with the Right Use of Choice

Part 4. How to Effectively Address the Competition in Your Solar Sales

Part 5. Stop Missing Out on Solar Customer Referrals

Part 6. Why and How to Keep In Touch with Past Solar Customers

Part 7. Don’t Give Up Too Soon on Solar Leads or Referrals

Topics: Solar Sales, NREL-Backed Ways to Close More Solar Sales

Don’t Overlook the Power of SRECs in Your Solar Sales Discussions

Posted by Sara Carbone on Nov 28, 2018 4:05:10 PM

As a solar contractor, you’re always looking to convey the most persuasive and relevant information in your sales conversations. When you’ve found the ideal prospect, you want to make it abundantly clear how a solar installation can benefit them–including clearly spelling out the financial benefits. You also want to build trust by providing up-to-date, educational information that answers their questions and concerns about going solar.

If your prospective customer lives in a state that offers Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs), a discussion of SRECs–which can significantly increase the return on investment–should be an integral part of your conversations.

This article explores a number of important points about SRECs you may want to bring to a prospect’s attention in a sales conversation.

The Basics: What Are SRECs?

An SREC is a renewable energy certificate (REC) for solar. RECs are tradable credits purchased by electric utilities to serve as proof that they have procured a certain percentage of their energy from renewable sources like wind and solar power. The percentage requirement is established by a state as part of a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), a mandate created to encourage the use of renewable energy. Twenty-nine states, Washington, D.C., and three territories have adopted an RPS.

Each REC represents the environmental benefits of one megawatt hour (or 1000 kilowatt hours) of renewable energy generation. One SREC is created for each megawatt hour (MWh) of electricity generated from solar energy systems. A state with an SREC market has a solar-specific renewable energy requirement for utilities, or “solar carve-out,” to help spur the development of solar under the state’s RPS. PV system owners in these states can earn income by selling SRECs associated with their systems’ output (in the form of these electronic certificates) into their state SREC market.

State RPS Policies as of October 2018. From the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE).State Renewable Portfolio Standards as of October 2018. Source: NC Clean Energy Center’s Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE).

Highlight Eligibility for SREC Income

First, you may need to tell prospective solar customers if their state has an SREC market (or if they can sell SRECs in another state market), as they may not be aware.

The states that have SREC markets are Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware, and Massachusetts, as well as Washington, D.C. States that don’t have an SREC market but where people can sell SRECs across the border in the Ohio SREC market are Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Pennsylvania allows SRECs to be sold into the Ohio market as well, and historically has allowed out-of-state generators to participate in its SREC market–though changes implemented in 2017 have begun to limit this.

Regardless of the presence of a state market, it should be made clear to your customers that SRECs are only available to the owners of PV systems. This means that homeowners and businesses going solar via a lease or PPA, are not eligible for SRECs. This may be an important consideration for them as they weigh different solar financing options.

States with SREC markets (i.e. that have a solar RPS) or where solar customers can sell SRECs in other state markets.States with SREC markets or where solar customers can sell SRECs in other markets. Data source: SRECTrade.

Explain the Value of SRECs

A solar system owner earns one SREC for every 1 MWh of electricity their system generates. The average size five kilowatt (kW) residential system produces between five to eight and a half MWh of electricity per year (i.e., 5 to 8 SRECs). (An analysis of the production of 4.9 to 5.1 kW PV systems designed in Aurora found an average of 6.81 MWh per year, with most systems producing between 5 and 8.5 MWh per year.) Given that, SRECs can seriously impact the financial returns of installing solar panels in some areas.

The actual amount of money a solar panel owner will receive for their SRECs varies by state market and SREC prices fluctuate over time. For example, in 2018, the price per SREC in Washington D.C. ranged from $420 to $295 and in Massachusetts they ranged from $322 to $265; meanwhile in Maryland and Ohio, they ranged from $15 to $5.50 and $7 to $3.50 respectively.

SREC value is determined by supply and demand. The demand is largely driven by utilities’ need to meet their solar RPS requirement or pay a compliance penalty if they don’t. This penalty is called an Alternative Compliance Payment (ACP) and is a per-MWh fine that electricity providers must pay for the amount they fall short of their RPS requirements. The ACP serves as a ceiling on SREC prices because electricity providers will save money by buying SRECs only if the SRECs cost less than the ACP. Therefore, lower ACP values equate to lower SREC prices.

As more solar is installed, there is a greater supply of SRECs in the market. This can result in lower SREC prices over time. However, the volume of SRECs required in a state is directly proportional to the overall RPS requirements for that particular state. Often those RPS requirements are set to increase over time, which can mean that the demand for SRECs increases along with solar installation numbers.

(Note: If you use Aurora solar software, our financial analysis tools can help you to calculate the value of the customer’s SRECs.)

Sign up for a demo to learn more about these features and see them in action.

Know the Specifics of Your State Market

Each state has different parameters for their SREC program in terms of things like how much energy utilities must source from solar, the cost of the ACP, and the length of time customers can receive credit for SRECs. You’ll want to be familiar with the details of the SREC markets in the states where you operate so that you can be an effective resource for your customers.

For example, in Massachusetts, the RPS requires that, by 2020, 15% of all electricity sold by regulated electricity suppliers serving retail customers come from renewable sources. While the state’s 1,600 MW program cap has been reached, their “SREC II” program has been extended to help transition to a new Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) incentive program. SREC prices in Massachusetts are also determined by an additional factor, the Solar Credit Clearinghouse Auction, which is an opportunity for brokers to sell SRECs at a set, guaranteed price when there is market oversupply. In 2017, the SACP was set at $350 and the Solar Credit Clearinghouse Auction II price was set at $285.

In Illinois, the RPS commits the state to producing 25% of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025, with 1.5% coming from solar systems. New Jersey utility PSG&G created a particularly creative initiative to provide loans to homeowners for their solar systems, allowing the loan repayment to come from the SRECs generated by their solar systems.

The length of SREC programs also vary. In Massachusetts and New Jersey PV system owners can claim SRECs for ten years. In Maryland, in contrast, eligible systems can continue to produce SRECs for the duration of the installation’s productive life. The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) is a helpful resource for state-specific research about SRECs. Being able to highlight local nuances to your customers is crucial to helping them understand the policies that will apply to them.

Limitations and Special Cases

There are a few caveats and special circumstances your customer may want to know about. If homeowners or businesses sell their SRECs in an SREC market they cannot claim that their building is powered by solar or make claims about reducing their carbon footprint with solar (particularly applicable to businesses interested in making this claim for marketing purposes.)

That’s because by selling their SRECs solar customers transfer the right to claim their energy as renewable because the utility is now using those SRECs to reduce the amount of renewable energy they would otherwise have to generate themselves. If the owner of the solar system claimed it for themselves as well it would mean the resulting emissions reductions would be counted twice, something regional tracking systems work to prevent. (For more on claims refer them to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Solar Power Use Claims Guidance.)

Customers may also be keen to know that if they sell their home or business in the future, they can transfer rights to SRECs to the new buyer as part of the sale process. This can act as an incentive for getting a higher sale price.

How Does Selling SRECs Work?

There are several ways a solar system owner can sell their SRECs. Many solar customers opt to sell their credits through an aggregator who acts as a broker between system owners and state markets. For a fee, these companies manage SREC sales to maximize returns and sometimes provide other resources like online systems to track performance.

Working with an aggregator requires less expertise and direct management than selling SRECs directly in the state market, though that is also an option. Alternatively, some customers enter into an agreement with a financing partner where they receive a fixed payment for SRECs over a set number of years. This can serve to insulate them from market fluctuations.

Some solar financing companies and SREC aggregators offer partnership programs with solar contractors. Like all major business decisions, these options should be weighed carefully. However, as you become more familiar with SRECs and the options you find to work best for your customers, these kinds of programs may be a worth exploring to help your customers monetize their SRECs.

Many customers are motivated to install solar because of the savings it can offer. A compelling sales conversation is bolstered by the inclusion of the role SRECs can play in a customer’s solar ROI. Depending on the state, SRECs can generate significant income for the system owner. Because SRECs and SREC markets can be complex topics to understand, positioning yourself as a resource to help prospective customers make sense of the details can be a great way to build trust and showcase the financial benefits of solar.

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Topics: Solar Sales, Solar Incentives

5 Ways to Make Solar Software Your Secret Weapon for Solar Sales

Posted by Gwen Brown on Nov 9, 2018 2:28:31 PM

Using cutting-edge solar software like Aurora gives you an advantage when it comes to the quality of your solar designs for your customer. But for prospective solar customers who may be unfamiliar with the solar design and installation process, it’s not always easy to understand how your solar design software sets you apart from competitors.

It doesn’t have to be that way, however. When you can clearly communicate the benefits of your advanced design tools, you can help the customer see the value your company brings to the table–and ultimately close more sales. These five strategies make it easy for prospective solar customers to understand how Aurora sets your company apart.

1. Educate the Client with Stunning 3D Visuals

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and that’s certainly true when it comes to solar sales. One of the easiest and most powerful ways to help the customer understand the quality of your design process with Aurora is to show them.

Aurora generates beautiful and accurate 3D representations of the project site and your solar design, letting the customer see exactly what their home or business will look like with your installation. These visuals can help them feel confident that they’ll be happy with the aesthetics of the PV system–a crucial consideration for an investment that will likely be with their property for the next 25 years.

A solar design in Aurora solar software (right), compared to aerial imagery (left).A solar design in Aurora (right) with an irradiance map showing solar access, compared to aerial imagery (left). Accurate visuals give customers a realistic sense of how their solar installation will look. 

Aurora visuals can also be helpful in educating the client about different solar design considerations. For instance, the sun path simulator, which shows the sun’s movement during every daylight hour of the year, can help illustrate how shade moves across the property at different times.

Similarly, Aurora’s irradiance engine calculates the available solar energy at every point on the roof surface and generates beautiful irradiance maps that show differences in solar access. These are great ways to help the customer understand why particular array locations are better than others.

 

Aurora solar software simulates the sun’s movement, and resulting shadows, during every hour of the year. The sun path animation illustrates this. Aurora simulates the sun’s movement, and resulting shadows, during every hour of the year. The sun path animation provides a handy visual representation of this. 

You can also use these tools to demonstrate options the customer might want to be know about. For instance, if trees cause a lot of shading, you could provide irradiance maps and production data for different scenarios, such if trees were pruned or removed.

See how Aurora helps solar companies grow revenue, cut costs, and impress their  customers!

2. Demonstrate Accurate Solar Sizing and Production Estimates with Industry-Leading Algorithms

Of course, even more than stunning visuals, the customer wants to know they can trust your expertise–particularly when it comes to the amount of energy that their system will produce and how much of their energy usage it will offset. Aurora has developed proprietary algorithms that allow you to estimate the customer’s energy usage and forecast solar production with confidence.

 Aurora gives you a variety of ways to estimate how much energy the customer uses at different times, such as inputting their electric bills or uploading data from their utility. This provides a strong starting point for determining how much solar energy the customer's needs.

 From there, Aurora makes it easy to precisely calculate how much energy the system will produce. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has validated the accuracy of Aurora’s shading engine, finding its estimates of available solar energy to be statistically equivalent to manual, onsite measurements. 

Aurora solar software helps solar contractors accurately determine the customer’s energy consumption and solar savings. Aurora helps solar contractors accurately determine the customer’s energy consumption and future solar energy production throughout the year.

Additionally, our algorithms for calculating solar energy production take into account a number of considerations other solar software programs don’t. For example, Aurora is the first solar software that can model electrical behavior within each module, accounting for the locations of bypass diodes. This also us one of the only softwares that can model panels with integrated cell-string optimizers like Maxim’s.

Likewise, many solar software programs do not model how different stringing configurations change energy production, such as if shaded modules are grouped together in a separate string. We also model whether the selected inverter performs local or global maximum powerpoint tracking.

While customers may not understand all of the technical details that impact how much energy their solar installation will produce, highlighting that you’re using one of the industry’s most advanced software programs tools for system sizing and energy production modeling can help close more solar sales.

3. Showcase Tools for Accurate Post-Solar Rates and Financial Returns

Most likely, one of the main reasons your prospective customer is interested in solar is to save money on their utility bills. That means the accuracy of the bill savings you present to them is of the utmost importance. Explaining how Aurora produces accurate estimates of their solar savings can help the customer be confident your design will deliver the savings they seek.

Aurora has an extensive database of utility rates–covering over 3,000 utilities and over 17,000 utility rates around the world–so you can accurately model your customer’s electricity bill and how it will change with solar. Aurora even models bill savings under time of use rates, in which the value of electricity varies depending on time of day. Utilizing accurate pre- and post-solar utility rates provides the client with a predictable future monthly bill and overall lifetime savings.

Aurora also offers financial modeling tools that allow you to show the customer key metrics like the Net Present Value (NPV), Internal Rate of Return (IRR), and Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE). Plus, Aurora has an extensive database of financial incentives, so you can take into account any applicable grants, tax rebates, or production based incentives (PBIs) like SRECs when presenting financial metrics to the customer.

4. Explain How Aurora Reduces Change Orders by Up to 100%

Your prospective customer probably also wants to know that the installation process will go smoothly–without unexpected errors, changes, or delays. You can highlight the wide variety of tools Aurora gives you to ensure design accuracy and avoid time-consuming change orders (revisions to the design) at a later date.

Aurora makes it easy to accurately model the project site–from the height and pitch of the roof to the presence of obstructions like skylights and vents. Aurora’s ruler tool makes it easy to confirm site dimensions. The ruler snaps to objects like building edges, obstructions, solar panels, carports and groundmounts and indicates their length. Additionally, Aurora allows you to specify required setbacks so that your panel placement doesn’t violate fire codes or jurisdiction requirements. Aurora will alert you of any violations.

Aurora Solar's ruler tool snaps to objects like roofs or solar panels making it easy to ensure the accuracy of your site model.
Aurora's ruler tool snaps to objects like roofs or solar panels making it easy to ensure the accuracy of your site model. 

If you have a premium account, you have even more cutting-edge tools to ensure accuracy, such as LIDAR, computer vision measurements, and even National Electrical Code (NEC) validation to ensure that your design doesn’t violate any electrical or mechanical constraints or industry best practices.

For the customer, all of this means that you are less likely to have to make design changes (change orders) later that add time and cost to the project. In fact, California contractor Solarponics reports that they have completely eliminated change orders since switching to Aurora!

Sign up for a free demo to see Aurora’s state-of-the-art remote solar design  tools

5. Highlight How Aurora Makes It Easy to Find the Best Design

Ultimately, your customer wants to know they’re getting the best solar design. Aurora’s solar software helps set your company apart by giving you an efficient design workflow that allows you to quickly and cost-effectively explore a variety of design options to find the best one.

For example, in Aurora, you can copy existing designs you’ve created and then make adjustments, letting you quickly iterate through different options, like incorporating microinverters or DC optimizers or using different panels. From there, you can quickly assess the energy production and financial returns of each design to find the best choice.

Companies with less efficient design processes may not have the time to explore multiple design options and find a custom solution. Highlighting this difference can give you a solar sales advantage.

You’ve made an investment in top-notch solar design tools that help you deliver high-quality solar installations to your customers, so why keep those tools under wraps? Discussing your design process can help the customer see what sets you apart from the competition.


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Do you have other strategies for highlighting the advantages of your solar design software in solar sales conversations? Let us know in the comments below!

Topics: solar design, Solar Sales

Turning Solar Support Into Solar Sales: 5 Tactics for Effective Communication

Posted by Gwen Brown on Oct 9, 2018 2:58:08 PM

People view solar and other renewable energy sources positively–according to SEIA, nine out of ten Americans support the growth of solar and a majority favor renewable energy over fossil fuels. Yet that support doesn’t always translate into action.

So how do we communicate about solar in a way that drives action?

That was the focus of one of the key panel discussions at SPI 2018. The General Session “Turning Positive Solar Attitudes to Positive Results” kicked off the first full day of SPI. SEIA President and CEO Abby Hopper moderated the panel, which featured an impressive lineup.

The three panelists included marketing and branding expert Omar Johnson–former Chief Marketing Officer at both Apple and Beats by Dr. Dre., former White House Communications Director and CNN Contributor Jen Psaki, and Matt Lewis, author and Senior Columnist for the Daily Beast.

The panel highlighted a number of specific tactics that solar supporters can use in their communications to more effectively drive action in support of solar. The conversation focused on industry-level communication to help grow the solar industry as a whole. However, many of these strategies could also apply at an individual and company level to engage more persuasively with prospective customers.

We identified five key strategies for effective communication about solar based on the panel discussion. Try incorporating these tactics in your solar sales and marketing efforts to connect with new audiences and convert more prospects into customers.

1. Use Culture to Connect

One of the recurring themes of the panel discussion was the importance of cultural identity.

Matt Lewis of the Daily Beast emphasized that “We don’t just act rationally”–identity, faith, tribe, and community are hugely powerful drivers of our actions. He argued that “culture is more important than politics, community,” and many other factors in shaping people’s behavior.

Lewis believes that a key deciding factor in whether people will support solar is whether they see it as something for people who are like them. He cautioned that if we want solar to have broad support, we must ensure that it doesn’t become seen as an option just for “latte-drinking liberals.”  

Lewis suggested that one of the best ways to connect with new audiences is to share stories of people that they identify with who have adopted solar.

Applying it to your business: Highlight the stories of a variety of diverse customers, making it clear that solar energy is for everyone–from low-income customers, to customers of different cultural backgrounds, to non-profit customers, and many others.

2. Highlight Human Stories

We often think that data, hard numbers and facts, are the best way to persuade. But the panelists underscored that data may not be nearly as effective as connecting with people on a human level.

This point was highlighted by Jen Psaki, former White House Communications Director, who summed it up as “Data doesn’t drive people; people drive people.”

Couple with solar panels - share human storiesAccording to the panelists of the SPI 2018 General Session “Turning Positive Solar Attitudes to Positive Results,” sharing the human stories behind solar can be one of the most effective communication strategies to build support for solar. 

Psaki explained that when she worked on the White House communication strategy to build support for the Affordable Care Act, they initially focused their communications on cost savings data, sharing many charts and graphs. But they ended up realizing that was a mistake because it didn’t communicate the human impacts. “What made a difference was when we shared human stories, how lives were saved,” she explained.

Omar Johnson, former CMO of Apple and Beats, remarked that “The last thing you’re going to win on is data.” He commented that people are bombarded with so many different pieces of information on a daily basis that–especially if they're skeptical of your message– they’ll easily find other sources that contradict your arguments.

Applying it to your business: Putting your message in terms of the human impacts of solar–how it tangibly benefits your customers–however, can help connect with people in a way they’ll remember and be more open to considering. That could range from a blog post about how solar savings are helping a non-profit provide important community services to a video testimonial from a customer about how solar has benefitted their family. 

3. Drive Action with Emotion

Another related takeaway from the panel was the importance of emotion in your communication. Whether it’s positive emotions like nostalgia or more negative ones like fear and greed, all of the panelists agreed that emotion is a powerful driver of action.

Johnson explained that simple emotional messages are a valuable tool for effective communication because they easily cut across group lines. For instance, “we all want more for ourselves and our families” so that can be one angle for explaining the value of solar. Psaki remarked that urgency is also a powerful emotion for driving action–people act when they feel they may lose out on something, or have something taken away.

Applying it to your business: Explore opportunities to incorporate emotion in your messaging. For instance, as the deadline approaches for reduction of the Investment Tax Credit, incorporating an element of urgency in your communications might drive customers who are on the fence to take action to install solar.  

Drive Action with Emotion- Woman reading utility billConnecting with people through emotions they can relate to like... stress over utility bills, can be an effective communication strategy. 

4. Know Your Audience

The panelists also emphasized the importance of understanding the audience you’re trying to reach with a particular message, and tailoring your message to what they care about.

Psaki shared an anecdote about her work at the White House leading their communications around climate change. Through research, they realized the message that most resonated with women focused on the health impacts of climate change. When talking to farmers, they found that discussing “the changing climate” was much more effective than talking about “climate change.”

These kinds of insights, whether from market research or just getting out and talking with the groups of people your solar company is trying to sell to, can be incredibly powerful in helping you find the marketing or sales message that works.

In some cases, that might mean changing your strategy. As Psaki said, “Sometimes when you have new information, you need to throw out your old assumptions about how to reach people.”

Applying it to your business: Question your assumptions about what different audiences care about and seek out opportunities to understand those groups better (surveys, customer conversations, etc.).

5. Sell a Solution, Not a Product

Finally, another strategy for effective communication about the value solar offers is to think bigger. Instead of framing your marketing and sales initiatives around why people should buy a solar installation, think about putting your message in terms of the solution you’re offering.

Discussing his own decision to install solar and energy storage, Omar Johnson explained that he wanted solar so his family would have power in the case of a prolonged outage. That security for his family was the solution he was looking for, so messages that put that front and center would have been the most effective with him.

Applying it to your business: Once you understand what your audience cares about, highlight the value of solar in terms of the solutions they’re seeking, such as greater financial freedom, resilience, or sustainability.


Taking a leaf out of these experts’ playbooks can help you communicate more effectively about the value of solar–both to close more solar sales and to help grow support for the industry as a whole. To paraphrase one of the concluding comments of the panel, “As the pie gets bigger, there’s more for everyone.” Here’s to growing support for clean solar energy!

 

Do you have other tactics for effective communication about solar? Let us know in the comments below!

 

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Topics: Solar Sales, Solar Marketing

A Unique Group Purchasing Program Connecting Nonprofits with Solar

Posted by Gwen Brown on Sep 21, 2018 12:21:35 PM

A persistent challenge solar contractors face is customer acquisition. Solar group purchasing programs present a unique opportunity to compete for a large collection of solar projects. These programs bring together groups of customers that have decided to go solar, and solicit proposals from contractors to install the PV systems for them.

Although these programs seek competitive bids for their participants in exchange for aggregating a large volume of PV capacity, they can be a great way for solar contractors to win sizable deals. Additionally, depending on the particular group purchasing program, it can also provide a rare opportunity to access markets that are typically difficult to reach.

The Community Purchasing Alliance, a member-owned cooperative serving nonprofits in the Washington, D.C. area, is one such program. Their solar program facilitates third-party owned commercial solar projects (PPAs) for nonprofits, such as schools, churches and synagogues, and other community organizations.

We spoke with Joe Naroditsky, Director, Solar & Operations at the Community Purchasing Alliance (CPA) to learn more about their solar group purchasing program. Our conversation highlights the benefits for solar contractors who engage in the program, and offers insight into some of the barriers nonprofits face to installing solar and how programs like CPA’s overcome them.

We’ve also compiled a list of resources for learning more about these kinds of programs, and highlighted a couple of other organizations doing similar work in other regions. (Note: CPA is also in the early stages of exploring possible expansion of their model to other cities.) In future articles, we’ll delve into other group purchasing program structures, including programs serving residential customers.

Gwen Brown, Aurora Solar: For those not familiar with the work of the Community Purchasing Alliance, what does your organization do?

Joe Naroditsky, Community Purchasing Alliance: An important thing to mention first is that we're a member-owned cooperative. We started as a co-op when 12 churches got together and realized that they were paying more on their electricity bills than on their pastors’ salaries and wanted to do something about that. One of our founders, Felipe Witchger, was working as a volunteer consultant for this group of faith communities and helped them organize.

They bought their electricity together and ended up saving nearly $100,000 that first year. A few months later, about 30 churches joined in, and then 100 churches, and so on. Our other programs are very much like that first initiative, and all of our programs exclusively serve nonprofits. We help folks get better deals on things like trash hauling, janitorial services, and security. We work with a lot of charter schools, and help them with their procurement.

Our solar program is very similar. D.C. is a great market for solar right now and nonprofits are interested in how solar can help them reduce their energy bills. We put a call out to our members to see who's interested. Those that are join a group and together we solicit bids for third-party owned solar projects from different contractors.

Community Purchasing Alliance's solar program helps nonprofits, like churches, install solar through solar group purchases
The Community Purchasing Alliance's solar program helps nonprofits, like churches, install solar. 

Gwen: What are some of the benefits to solar contractors who are selected to install the PV systems for these groups of nonprofits?

Joe: First, in aggregation comes volume. We aggregated over two megawatts of rooftop projects last year, and we've done over four megawatts in the last four years.

Additionally, the commercial-industrial space is the toughest nut to crack in solar and the nonprofit space is the toughest segment to crack within that sector. Probably the biggest benefit to contractors is an “in” to a very difficult space to access that can be very lucrative. Particularly here in the D.C. area, where SREC values are very high, these PPA deals are really good business.

We also help coordinate the ongoing communication with clients–facilitating meetings and check ins, providing project status updates, that sort of thing. So solar contractors that participate in CPA group purchasing programs also get the benefit of our support with these aspects of project management and customer satisfaction.

Related to that, because we organize and educate interested nonprofits, the sales process for participating contractors is a lot shorter than if they were selling to these nonprofits directly. One barrier that nonprofits can face when considering a solar purchase is that they typically have multi-tiered, multi-faceted decision making processes.

If you're selling a commercial solar installation to a company, you may be working with the CEO and have just one or two people that need to give their blessing before they sign off. In contrast, with a church or synagogue, there are a lot of folks involved, and it usually leads to much longer sales cycles than you have in a traditional commercial setting.

Typically solar contractors don't have the time and bandwidth to dedicate what could be 18 to 24 or more months to these small to mid-sized projects and so, a lot of times, they just pass on them. We take on a lot of that work–educating, facilitating the decision-making process, answering questions, going to board meetings, and just taking the time that’s needed. At the end of that process, we have very bought-in and educated clients who are ready to sign a contract.

"At the end of [our RFP] process, we have very bought-in and educated clients who are ready to sign a contract."

Gwen: What’s the typical size of solar deal that solar companies win through the Community Purchasing Alliance’s solar RFP process?

Joe: Our RFPs average about two megawatts in aggregate project size. In terms of individual system size, it varies. The smaller churches and synagogues and other houses of worship are in the 50 kilowatt range, the larger schools are in the 300-400 kilowatt range.  Because we’re aggregating megawatts, we're asking for offers that are better than what a standard, off-the-shelf offer would be–deals our participants would not be able to get on their own.

We make a concerted effort to be very clear that it takes more than just filling out the form to make somebody competitive. In a lot of ways, we see ourselves as a market maker. We’d like contractors understand how important it is to help some of these critical community institutions, which may mean approaching things differently than with a typically commercial client. These organizations run some of the most important work in our community, like after-school programs, homeless shelters, and community clinics–all types of cornerstone community services.

"In a lot of ways, we see ourselves as a market maker."

Gwen: You’ve highlighted some of the benefits of CPA’s programs for contractors. Can you talk a bit more about how your RFP process works?

Joe: Having been in the solar industry for going on 12, 13 years now, I do a lot of the pre-analysis and pre-qualification of certain sites. I get a sense for whether or not interested nonprofits are good candidates for solar, and get a general sense of system size and their roof and building conditions.

From there, our role is to facilitate that competitive bid process–putting together an RFP and putting it out to bid to many different solar contractors in the region. I facilitate site visits and walkthroughs of the different churches and schools, answer questions that contractors may have, and compile all the bids we receive. A lot of work goes into making sure that we put out an RFP that will yield apples-to-apples comparisons on all the proposals that we get.

When we get those proposals back, we evaluate, summarize, and synthesize them, and then share them with the participants. It's very much a group process–a lot of meetings, phone calls with organizations, folks sharing their different questions with each other, what their concerns are.

Really, I think the magic is in that group process. It’s where a lot of the trust gets built, folks know that they're not going into this alone, and they get their peers and different organizations’ perspective and ideas. One person's good idea has often become a great addition to the contract that we then negotiate with the winning solar company.

That's the process. It's not just about the pricing, it's also about the contracts–helping our members with collaborative negotiating of the contracts. We review contracts from the different vendors and our participants tell us what their red flags are in terms of legal terms.

After the RFP process, CPA remains involved as an accountability partner for our organizations. All the way throughout the design, development, installation, and commissioning process, we're there as needed as an advocate and accountability partner–and a guide for those that just need a little more help or assistance or hand holding.

Are you a solar company serving the DC Metro area interested in learning more about how to get involved in CPA's programs? Joe Naroditsky, CPA's Director, Solar & Operations can be reached at joe(at)cpa.coop


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Additional resources:

If you are interested in learning more about solar group purchasing programs, here are some resources for further learning–including information about solar group purchasing for other types of customers (municipalities, residential, etc.) and programs in other regions. Many of these focus on the customer perspective, but contractors can use them as a starting point for exploring opportunities for getting involved.

General information:

Programs for municipal/government customers:

Programs for residential customers:
Programs for commercial customers:

Topics: Solar Sales

Does Solar Increase Home Value? The Latest Data for Solar Clients

Posted by Sara Carbone on Aug 22, 2018 10:00:00 AM

Selling a solar PV system is not always easy. Prospective solar customers have concerns about everything from ROI and how to finance it to how it will affect the aesthetics of their house. And they’ll likely want to know what having a PV system will do to the value of their home–now and in the future if they want to sell.

The more specific you and your sales team can be about the benefits of installing solar, the better. A number of studies provide compelling data about how solar increases home value. This information can go a long way towards helping a prospect feel confident making the leap.

In today’s article, we highlight some facts about how solar affects home value–and the studies behind them–that your clients will want to know.

Their House Will Sell for More

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) conducted a report that definitively showed that homes with solar sold for more than houses without it. The 2015 study, Selling Into the Sun: Price Premium Analysis of a Multi-state Dataset Of Solar Homes, analyzed 22,000 home sales in 8 states, 4,000 of which included PV systems, from 2002 to 2013.

The study found that each watt of solar added an average of $4 to the home’s value in California and an average of $3 per watt elsewhere. This amounted to an average increase to the home’s selling price of $20,000 in California ($4 x 5,000W for the average system size) and $15,000 outside California ($3 x 5,000W).

Another study, An Analysis of Solar Home Paired Sales Across Six States, published in the Appraisal Journal–the nation’s largest professional association of real estate appraisers–found similar results. Their examination of sales of homes with solar systems in six states from 2010 to 2014 found that properties with PV systems sold at a premium in all of the markets.

The average premium was $14,329 per home, which was 3.74% of the average sale price. They did find that the premium as a percentage of the property’s selling price was very dependent on the size of solar system and the home’s price range. Another point was that the multiple listing system (MLS) that posted the house had to include information on the PV system to factor into the value of the home during an appraisal.

Their House Will Sell Faster

An earlier study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) looking at high-performance homes in California found that homes with PV systems sold 20% faster (and for 17% more) across several subdivisions built by different California builders. Their study of several hundred home sales also revealed that if a solar system was already installed and factored into the price, buyers were more likely to choose that house over others without solar. Some other interesting findings include: the aesthetics of a PV system were not identified as an obstacle to purchasing and the resale value was not damaged by the presence of a solar system.

They’ll Likely Recoup the Cost of the System When They Sell

The $15,000-20,000 addition to the selling price found in the LBNL study Selling Into the Sun (cited above) is similar to the typical cost of the average rooftop solar system. Given that the average cost of a new 6kW PV system is between $16,260 and $21,420 (before the 30% federal Investment Tax Credit), it is a pretty good bet that the homeowner will make back the money from their initial investment in the resale.

Other Considerations

There are many factors that could influence the extent to which a PV system adds value to a home. Here are few considerations your customer may want to be aware of when considering the increased home value solar may provide.

Regional Markets and Electricity Costs Matter

One factor to keep in mind is that the largest increases to the value of a property may tend to come in regions with high electricity rates and strong solar incentive programs. High energy costs can make a home with a PV system more sellable. For instance, Long Island’s high energy rates have been a boon for the solar market there; the area is home to about 40% of all solar systems in New York. Gerard O’Connor, a local appraiser, stated that buyers are “certainly willing to pay more” for a home where high electricity prices increase the savings from PV systems.

And higher energy costs can mean higher home value for homes with solar during the appraisal process. When appraisers consider the role of a PV system in the calculation of a home’s value, electricity produced by the system can be considered income, whether due to savings or from utility production credits, as noted in appraisal guidelines for green and high-performance properties from the Appraisal Foundation (see p. 36-38).

Ensuring PV Is Factored Into Home Value

Lenders, real estate agents, and appraisers should account for the value added by a solar system–and some may not know to do this (so your customer should point it out). The Federal Housing Authority (FHA) and Fannie Mae both have guidelines for valuing the system during appraisal. Sandia National Laboratories has a free tool designed to help real estate appraisers and others calculate the value of a new or existing PV system.

(Note: If you want to help your customer understand some of the metrics used to quantify the value of a home solar system (property value aside), our blog post on the topic is a good place to start. Plus, Aurora’s financial analysis tools are able to calculate all of these metrics easily, including payback period and projected cash flows over the life of the system, so you can easily communicate that value in your sales proposals.)

Most Data Focuses on Owned PV Systems

Much of the research to date, including the LBNL and Appraisal Journal studies discussed here, focus on homes where the PV system is owned by the homeowners–not third-party owned systems financed with PPAs and leases. The authors of the LBNL study recommend more research into the impact of leased systems on home value. Also, leased systems or ones paid through a PPA will not be included in an FHA or Fannie Mae appraisal.

Beyond the need for more data on how third-party owned PV systems affect home resale value, these types of systems present their own unique complexities in the home sale, such as the need to transfer a PPA or lease to the buyer.

System Size and Age

One factor found to affect resale value was PV system size. The Appraisal Journal study found that the premium as a percentage of the property’s selling price was very dependent on the size of solar system, and the LBNL study also found value corresponded to the capacity (W) of the PV system.

Another influencing factor in the extent to which solar increases home value might be the age of the system when the home is sold. The LBNL study notes that the depreciation of aging solar systems may decrease the value added to the home during appraisal. However, as the study authors note, exactly how system age impacts the numbers is unclear because there has been little research about it given the immaturity of the American solar market.


Adding a PV system is a significant decision for any homeowner; it requires careful consideration about the pros and cons and a good amount of trust in the contractor they work with. Being prepared to provide research-backed information about the benefits of solar, including the value it can add to the home, will help build trust with prospects and keep customers, both past and present, glad that they chose to work with you.


Note: For those looking to further explore the research on this topic, this Field Guide to Solar PV Energy Features, compiled by a co-author of both the LBNL and Appraisal Journal studies, is an excellent starting point for further reading.

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Topics: Solar Sales

Are You Applying These Tactics to Close More Solar Sales?

Posted by Aurora Solar on Jul 11, 2018 12:16:46 PM

Despite the tumultuousness of the so-called “solar coaster,” the solar industry’s growth trajectory is incredibly promising. Over the last seven years, solar's share of U.S. electrical generation grew from a paltry 0.1 percent to 2 percent. Of course, that still leaves a huge potential market for solar contracting companies.

Despite the room for growth, being a solar salesperson comes with a number of challenges. Many customers have little knowledge of solar energy, and the size of the investment may make them hesitate. So, when you are selling solar installations, you need to embrace both traditional and contemporary methods in order to produce the sales numbers you need. In today’s article, we explore a variety of sales approaches that solar companies have found to be successful.

Partnerships

As every sales person knows, selling is much easier when you have solid leads—so it’s helpful to think creatively about partnerships that can help you identify leads. Real estate agents, for instance, can provide you with an ongoing stream of qualified customers. Many people buy a home with the intention of remodeling it. They are excellent candidates for a solar installation. Other potential buyers might love a home but be concerned about taking on years of high utility bills. You can easily step in and offer them a customized plan to add solar to the sales deal. In this way, everyone benefits: you, the buyer, and the real estate agent.

If your town or city has a concierge utility company, you can partner with them as well. These specialized groups are hired by homeowners to take care of switching all of their utility services to their new home. They can easily recommend you as their expert solar representative, giving you an excellent opportunity to sell the home buyers a solar installation. These are especially powerful and productive leads.

Door-to-Door

Some successful salespeople swear by the door-to-door method for selling solar installations, despite its reputation as a way to sell vacuum cleaners. Experts say this approach works if salespeople are highly trained and use the right pitch to customers. Going door to door means limiting your efforts to the local area, which has proven to be an effective approach in solar sales. Remember, your door-to-door efforts have to be professional and on-point. Your company's reputation depends upon it.

The Power of Technology

A solar installation is a significant investment, so you will need strong person-to-person interaction. You are more likely to connect to customers through the power of the internet and social media.

Email

While email is almost certainly something you use on a daily basis in your sales work, it can be utilized in a variety of additional ways to drive more sales, particularly through well-crafted automated emails. This can enable your company to offer instantaneous responses to any inquiry on your company website.

Customers do not like to wait, and are all the more conditioned to expect instant attention since many companies offer 24/7 online help. If your company doesn't offer that service, you can still send out automated emails that promise a response from a salesperson in 24 hours or less. The instant feedback will help hold the customer's interest until you do reach out, but you must be careful to always respond in the stated time frame.

You can also keep in touch with and nurture "old" leads via automated emails. With a drip campaign, you can automate a series of periodic emails to maintain contact and give the recipients more chances to say yes. Their circumstances may have changed since you last spoke. Old leads may come through if you do not give up.

Of course, as with other sales approaches discussed here, your drip campaign must be developed with care and address the contact’s needs. Otherwise, you risk them being seen as spam, which will only hurt your reputation.  

LinkedIn, Facebook, et al.

Social media can be effective in getting potential leads. The average person has approximately five social media accounts and spends 1 hour and 40 minutes on them every day. If you want to get someone's attention, social media is the way to do it. Plus, friends and family of clients can be a rich sales pool.

Software

Solar design software programs, like Aurora, that enable you to create stunning 3D visualizations of the client's home with solar panels installed can be very valuable in showcasing the quality designs and installations you offer. Customers need to see that solar can be aesthetically pleasing as well as practical. An image can do much toward finalizing a sale.

Of course, an efficient system for tracking your communications with prospective customers is also key to successful sales. Solar installations are not bought on a whim. Many consumers take time to make the leap, so keeping detailed records is essential to your success. If your solar design and sales software integrates with your CRM tools—letting you more easily access the latest version of their solar design—it becomes even easier to ensure your operating with the most up-to-date information.

Video

Ask your buyers if you can shoot a video of their solar installation. Go to happy customers and get their testimonials on video as well. Consumers expect to literally see results. Sharing a well-done video testimonial in the process of your communications with prospective customers can help build confidence in your services.  Plus, you can get great mileage out of videos, which can be posted on your website, social media accounts, and YouTube.

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In sales, the basics stay the same. You need to be knowledgeable, personable, and offer a product that has real value for your customers. Solar installations do require an added level of finesse. You are asking people to invest in a new-to-them technology that they may not yet fully understand. To close the sale, you'll need to incorporate both new technology and traditional methods. Give all of these methods a chance and find out which combination works best for you.

Topics: Solar Sales

How to Optimize Your Solar Sales with Proposal Templates

Posted by Gwen Brown on May 30, 2018 6:05:52 PM

You know it’s critical that your solar sales proposals are compelling. After all, they are the tangible communication of why a customer should choose your company to install their solar system. But it’s not enough just to know what makes a proposal effective—you also need an efficient process for developing them. With a nimble proposal creation process, you’ll have more time for talking to customers and other aspects of your day-to-day work.

Templates are an indispensable tool for streamlining your proposal development process. By standardizing certain elements of your proposals, templates make it easy to ensure your proposals are professional and consistent. In today’s article, we share some of the ways you can use templates to make creating the perfect proposal a seamless process.

Aurora’s proposal tools make it easy for companies to create beautiful and flexible templates, and in this post we’ll highlight some of the ways Aurora customers can get the most out of those features. Even if you’re not an Aurora customer, however, incorporating these strategies in your proposal templates—in whatever program you use—can help you put your best foot forward without reinventing the wheel every time you prepare a quote for a prospective client.

[Note: Changes to company proposal templates in Aurora need to be implemented by the administrator of your account. We recommend each company take a little time to set up their proposal templates since it will save time on every solar sale.]

1. Standardize company branding 

Sales proposals are a key way that your company presents itself to prospective customers. As such, you want to make sure that all of the visual elements of your solar company’s brand—like fonts, colors, and your logo—are consistent with your company's image elsewhere (website, ads, brochures, etc.).

Standardizing these elements in your solar sales proposal templates will save you and your team time by eliminating the need to make manual adjustments. (A few minutes for each proposal can really add up!) It will also ensure that errors and inconsistencies aren’t introduced.

Customize your branding in solar sales proposal templates for a consistent look and streamlined process.  Aurora users can customize elements of company branding like colors and logo. For an overview of how to do this, see Configuring Your Account in our Help Center. 

2. Standardize the information included in your proposals

In the process of talking with customers, chances are you’ve learned a lot about what information to include in your proposals based on customer priorities and the kinds of questions you often receive. Using templates to standardize the details included in each proposal, and the format that information is presented in, ensures that your proposals always meet your standards.

Additionally, your template should ideally be set up so that it easily pulls in all of the information you’ve already prepared, such as design and financing details. Aurora has made this easy by providing a plethora of different placeholders to fit each company’s needs—from cash flow charts to lists of components to desired images. One of the best things about these placeholders is that they automatically populate with the relevant information about your design, such as 2D and 3D images of the system and financing information based on the different scenarios you’ve modeled.

A solar sales proposal template with placeholder that pull in project information is a key way to save time and sell more solar.Aurora provides a wide array of placeholders that can be added to proposal templates. Each of these fields will automatically pull in the relevant information from your solar project. For a detailed overview of how to customize proposals with desired placeholders in Aurora, see our Help Center

3. Don't start from scratch

While you want your templates to be tailored to your processes and brand, that doesn’t mean you have to start from scratch when creating them. In Aurora, we provide several proposal templates created by professional designers which you can copy and modify as needed. That could mean adding additional pages with other information, replacing images (including background images), or customizing the language.

Similarly, if you’re using another tool for creating proposals, you may want to draw from existing company materials when creating your proposal template, such as using imagery from brochures or pulling in your company’s origin story from your website. Not only will this save time, it will also help you maintain consistency in your communications.

An example of a designer solar sales proposal template in Aurora.Aurora users can utilize several customizable proposal templates created by professional designers (cover of one shown above). Even if you're not using Aurora, chances are you have existing company materials that can make creating a proposal template easier.

4. Bonus: Create a variety of templates to suit different customer priorities

Having one template is a great start, since it will save time for your team members every time they put together a quote. However, an effective proposal should highlight the details that a customer cares about. That means, depending on the client, you may want to focus on different aspects of the proposed system.

For instance, you might want to devote more of the proposal to explaining different financing options if you know a particular customer is very focused on that. Or, you could have a proposal with more detail on the components you'll use and why if a client is especially interested in the technology used in their system.

You can take your proposal creation to the next level by creating a couple of templates for different scenarios, giving your team the flexibility to quickly create the perfect proposal for every solar sales lead.


As the solar industry becomes more competitive, it's important to put in place processes that allow you to achieve the same results with less time and effort. Fortunately, there are a lot of technologies that can help—from saving truck rolls by using remote site assessment software, to automating the PV design process, to proposal generation tools. The use of flexible proposal templates, especially if they pre-populate with information about your project design, is another valuable tool for streamlining your solar sales process and bolstering your bottom line.

Topics: Solar Sales

Boost Your Solar Sales by Avoiding These Pitfalls

Posted by Gwen Brown on Mar 14, 2018 2:08:23 PM

Selling solar is far from easy. Even among home and business owners who are excited about reducing their bills and greening their energy consumption with solar, the large purchase can be daunting. Further, many potential customers are unfamiliar with how solar energy works, how it will impact their bills, and how to evaluate different incentives and financing options.

Nancy-REynolds-CED-headshot.jpg

Nancy Reynolds
VP Sales & Marketing
Clean Energy Design, LLC

We spoke with Nancy Reynolds, VP Sales & Marketing at Clean Energy Design, LLC  to understand some of the mistakes companies make when selling solar, so you can make sure to avoid them in your sales process. Clean Energy Design is a Massachusetts-based solar contracting firm with over 20 years of experience in solar integration and an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau.

Drawing from Nancy’s insights, we identified 3 core categories of mistakes that can derail your solar sale.

Solar Sales Mistake 1: Failing to Provide the Level of Information the Customer Wants

Make sure to be clear when explaining solar. Too much information can glaze someone over and not enough will leave them confused with too many questions. -Nancy Reynolds, Clean Energy Design, LLC

As Nancy points out, solar is a new subject for many potential customers so it is essential to tailor your presentation to their level. This is supported by research that Aurora did in 2016 to understand customer needs and what makes a strong solar sales proposal.

See how Aurora helps Baker Electric Solar stand out in a crowded solar market
Asked about what they knew going into the process, homeowners around the country who had considered a solar purchase said things like: 
“I had some idea of what it is, like it’s installed on the roof, but didn’t know the details,” or  “We weren’t knowledgeable at all. We went to an open house that was arranged by the Sierra Club and saw what the homeowner had done at the time.” 

Given this, it’s helpful to think about solar sales as a teaching opportunity. Ty Simpson, Regional Sales Manager of Bland Solar, says “Solar is not sales, it’s education. You’re teaching something unorthodox... Getting people to that a-ha moment.”

That might mean showing the customer how you design solar for their home or the calculations behind your estimates of how much they will save on their utility bills. However you approach the process, take note of the customer’s level of understanding and what they’re focused on so you can answer their questions without overwhelming them with more information than they are ready to process.

person making an educational solar sales presentationUsing your sales conversations as an opportunity to educate homeowners and other potential customers about solar energy, can help make them more comfortable with the purchase.  

Make sure you know all the ins and outs of the information you are presenting! -Nancy Reynolds, Clean Energy Design, LLC

It should go without saying, but it’s your responsibility to be the solar expert so you can answer any questions the customer may ask. From a having strong grounding in why you are proposing a specific PV design or components, to understanding the relevant solar policies, incentives, and financing options, a good solar sales person knowledgeable about all aspects of a solar purchase.

If there are any areas of the process you’re less familiar with, spend some time talking to people in other departments of your company to make sure you know the processes and reasons behind how your company approaches each part of the customer’s experience.

Solar Sales Mistake 2: Failing to Provide Prompt, Courteous Attention

Always answer the phone or call potential customers back immediately; most people want instant gratification. If you wait too long to respond, you will miss an opportunity. -Nancy Reynolds, Clean Energy Design, LLC

It may seem intuitive that if you want to make the sale you need to be attentive and responsive to each lead, particularly as the solar market becomes increasingly competitive, but you need to have strong, scalable processes in place that facilitate this.

That might mean investing in software that supports accurate remote site assessment so you can efficiently follow up with more leads—as Cascadia Solar did with Aurora, allowing them to double sales month over month—or using a CRM program to help track your follow-up conversations.

Solar management consultant Pamela Cargill notes that “anything that helps you track how often you follow up with a customer... is ripe for automation,” though she cautions that those interactions should be personalized because it is critical to build a genuine relationship with the customer.

Of course, these approaches don’t just apply at the sales stage. The sales process should show your potential clients the high level of attention and service that they can expect if they move forward with your company.

person calling a customerBeing responsive to inquiries from prospective customers is critical to closing the sale.

NEVER use high-pressure tactics or try to find out where you stand and if they are considering other companies.  Always mention that if they are getting other proposals they should be aware that they may not be comparing apples to apples. -Nancy Reynolds, Clean Energy Design, LLC

It should be the quality and service your company offers, and not high-pressure tactics, that lead customers to choose you. In fact, not only can those aggressive tactics damage the reputation of your company, they may damage the reputation of the industry more broadly.

This was a common theme at a roundtable on solar sales that Aurora convened last year. Attendee Zayith Pinto, Residential Sales Manager at Sunworks Inc., said that he thinks the biggest challenge for the solar is “The misconception that people have of the solar industry—that we’re just out to get a dime, to get a tax credit. Maybe they had a bad experience with a company that tried to rip them off.”

If you do a good job educating your customer (as discussed above), they will be able to see what differentiates your company. As Nancy Reynolds notes, that means addressing some of the different criteria they may want to consider when comparing quotes. For instance, if your company’s installation quality, excellent service, or use of higher-quality components results in better value even if you are not the cheapest, be sure to explain those considerations.  

Baker Electric Solar, a highly regarded solar company in southern California, uses Aurora to communicate what sets them apart. Scott O’Hara, Solar Energy Consultant at Baker, notes  “Aurora’s software has given me a significant advantage in an extremely competitive market. It allows me to show customers why we are proposing a specific panel layout… [and] increases consumer confidence, because they know we are using the best technology available today to accurately project the performance of the system.”

See how Aurora helps solar companies grow revenue, cut costs, and impress their  customers!

Solar Sales Mistake 3: Over-Promising and Under-Delivering

Last, but perhaps most important, it is critical that your sales process accurately represents the benefits your solar installation  will provide to the customer.

Nancy offered several specific things that installers should bear in mind to ensure that’s the case:

  • "Never promise that an installation will take place on a specific date until all the approvals have been received and equipment is reserved." 
  • "Always have a statement in your contract that will allow you to substitute equipment, if the panels specified are no longer available." 
  • "Do not be too optimistic about the power that will be generated by a solar system.  Always underestimate the anticipated power production and your customer will be very happy when the system is producing more than what was estimated in the proposal, particularly if PBIs (performance-based incentives) are involved." 

Our own Sales Consultant JT McCook, who worked in solar sales before joining Aurora, also underscored the importance of ensuring what is offered in the sales process precisely matches what the customer will receive. “It is SO important to get the design as close to perfect on day one in order to promote a high level of customer experience, as well as reduce the number of touch points for the project from start to finish (from sale to install).” 

JT notes that when he sold residential solar systems, he sometimes encountered cases where companies had sold customers a system that was larger than what they could actually install on the customers roof. Not only did this anger customers, whose savings would end up being lower than they had been told, it also cost the companies money in the long-term as a result of change orders and additional site visits.

Optimizer - map background.pngUsing a solar design program that enables precision and accuracy, like Aurora, can help ensure that the solar PV design you sell matches what the customer receives. 

Using cutting-edge technology in the design process, can ensure that your initial designs and energy production estimates are accurate and true to what the customer will receive.


A sales process that avoids these pitfalls—by effectively educating the customer, providing prompt and courteous communication, and ensuring the accuracy of what you offer—will help you close more sales. And, just as importantly, it will lay a strong foundation for customer satisfaction so that your customers can be sources of referrals down the line.

 

Topics: Solar Sales

What Makes a Solar Sales Proposal Successful? 5 Tips for Proposals that Close

Posted by Gwen Brown on Oct 18, 2017 12:00:00 AM

As a solar professional you put pride into your work: from the care and attention that goes into producing the optimal solar design for a customer’s needs, to building a reputation for amazing customer service, to meeting with your customer and taking the time to explain the value your proposed solar installation will offer.

But when the design is finished and your sales conversations are over, your proposal is what the customer will be left with as they sit down to choose between you and your competitors. What does your proposal say about you—and what can you do to make it as strong as possible?

Our Quest to Understand What Makes Proposals Succeed

Here at Aurora, our goal is to empower solar contractors to be more effective. And as your end-to-end software solution, that doesn’t just mean giving you the tools to design optimal solar projects faster and more easily. It also means helping you create stunning proposals so your proposed designs actually become reality.

Over the last year, we’ve been on a journey to discover the key factors that make proposals successful. First, we commissioned branding and marketing expert, Katherine Glass to research the sales experiences of solar customers, to understand what drove their decisions about installing solar, and solar professionals to understand what elements they had observed to be important in proposals and the solar sales process more broadly.

Glass—whose branding insights we shared in the first two parts of this series—is the founder of SpringMark, a marketing and brand strategy firm. Before founding SpringMark, she worked for global creative consultancy Lippincott, where she helped shape the brands of major companies like Delta, Petco, and Starbucks.

In her research, Glass spoke with a selection of homeowners around the country who were at different stages in the solar sales process to understand the factors that influenced their decisions. Some had installed solar, some were in the process of installing solar, and others had considered installing solar but ultimately decided against it, providing a diversity of perspectives and experiences.

We then convened a roundtable session of seasoned solar professionals at our offices in Palo Alto to integrate insights from their sales experiences. Katherine facilitated the session and identified common themes and lessons about what makes proposals successful from the contractor perspective.

participants of Aurora’s roundtable workshop on solar sales proposals Some of the participants of Aurora’s roundtable workshop on solar sales proposals: (from left) Zayith Pinto, Residential Sales Manager at Sunworks Inc.; Ty Simpson, Regional Sales Manager of Bland Solar and Air; Michelle Meier, Director of Solar Services at BSW Roofing & Solar, and President at Solar Roof Services LLC; and Vernon Stratton, CEO of Polar Solar. Katherine Glass (right) facilitated the workshop. (Participant Michael Hale, Solar Energy Consultant at Baker Electric Solar is not pictured.)

This dynamic day yielded rich information on the key elements of compelling proposals, and kicked off six months of work by our team to enhance Aurora’s proposal templates so solar salespeople could have the best proposals in the industry. We hired designers to develop new proposal templates for Aurora based on our research findings, and our internal team worked to build additional functionality to make our proposal tool as user-friendly as possible.

Today, we’re excited to share what we’ve learned with you—along with new proposal functionality and redesigned proposal templates that make applying these lessons a snap!

Five Features of Successful Solar Proposals

1. Highlight What the Customer Cares About

If you want to engage prospective customers and convince them of the value your company will provide, naturally your proposal should focus on the information that’s most important to them. But what is that? While each customer is unique, some key themes emerged from our research:

Emphasize the Finances of Going Solar

Aurora Solar Sales Workshop Attendee T. Simpson, Bland Solar & Air Although many homeowners cited environmental concerns as a motivator for considering solar, in the end, for most, financial savings were the biggest deciding factor. As part of this, the availability of rebates/incentives was also a key consideration. Many homeowners found the incentives for solar confusing, so they appreciated when a company could help them make sense of their options.

This perspective was corroborated by the experiences of the solar professionals that participated in our roundtable. “The number one thing to discuss is financing,” reflected Ty Simpson, Regional Sales Manager of Bland Solar. “It’s hard for customers to find financing details on the internet.... They trust you to know that stuff. That’s the biggest gray area.”

Example of financial content to include in solar sales proposals- including savings and incentives The financial impacts of your customer’s solar installation, such as immediate and lifetime savings, as well as financial incentives that apply to them, are some of the most important elements for your proposal to address.

Communicate That You’ll Be There for Your Customers

Other factors that were particularly influential in customer decisions were perceptions of companies’ long-term viability, level of service, and attention to detail. Customers wanted to be confident that the company they chose would be around to help them if they experienced problems in the future, and that they would get a quality installation. As such, customer reviews, testimonials, awards and other markers of quality are important elements of a strong proposal (as we’ll explore in more detail in section 5 below).

2. Be Remarkable

A great proposal is one that is visually appealing and different enough that it will be memorable. We took this to heart when we developed Aurora’s proposal templates, commissioning professional designers to create templates that were more visually impactful:

We commissioned designers to create new, memorable proposal templates for our users. (In these examples the Aurora logo is used, but users can customize each template with their own logos, brand colors, and content.)

Beyond the look of your proposal, there are a lot of strategies you can implement to ensure that the information in your proposal sticks in people’s minds. The book Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Wharton marketing professor Jonah Berger—a New York Times bestseller and Best Marketing Book of 2014—explores the factors that make content go viral. While people probably won’t be sharing your proposal on Facebook, applying Berger’s insights on how to make something “remarkable” can increase the likelihood that they remember your proposal and want to talk about it.

In Berger’s words, “Something can be remarkable because it is novel, surprising, extreme, or just plain interesting.” You might think that a product or service needs to be completely new or rare to be remarkable, but remarkability can be found in even the most common product. Snapple added remarkability to their drinks when they came up with the idea of including surprising facts on the inside of their bottle caps.

Think about what potential customers would find surprising, interesting, impressive or otherwise noteworthy about your company, your approach, or your design. Maybe it’s the unusual story of how your company was founded, the inspiring tale of how one of your past projects had a transformative impact on a family or community, or the cutting-edge components you used in the design. Or maybe it’s the realistic model of how their house will look with solar, that you created in Aurora!

Incorporating elements of remarkability can get people talking, and if your proposal gets people talking, there’s a good chance it will be the one they remember.

3. Differentiate Your Company

Another essential feature of a strong sales proposal is that it clearly communicates what sets your company apart from the competition. Is it your exceptional warranties and customer service? Your decades of experience? The components you use in your designs? Whatever defines your company’s value should be clearly articulated in your proposal so the customer doesn’t have to read between the lines.

Aurora Solar Sales Workshop Attendee M. Hale, Baker Electric SolarThis was a major theme among the participants in our roundtable. Michael Hale, Solar Energy Consultant at Baker Electric Solar , explained how his company emphasizes their decades of experience and the reputation for quality. “We differentiate with our installations method, the experience of our crew, [and] the longevity of our company.” Twice ranked #1 solar electrical subcontractor in Solar Power World’s Top 500 Solar Contractors list, and #4 on the Rooftop Solar Contractors list, the strategy seems to be paying off for Baker Electric Solar.

 

Aurora Solar Sales Workshop Attendee M. Meier, Solar Roof Services LLCFor Michelle Meier, whose company Solar Roof Services LLC helps roofers add solar installations to the suite of services they offer, the approach is a bit different. “[In] every proposal, the second page is all about the roofer and their value-add.” Installers that work with Meier emphasize how the customer can be more confident that the installation won’t cause roof damage if they go with a roofing professional. Additionally, “With the roofers, since the homeowner may not have even been thinking about solar, we’re educating on solar 101.”

The technology you use in your designs, or in the process of creating them, can also be a factor that differentiates your company. This is an approach taken by Vernon Stratton, CEO of Polar Solar; “I had to find a product that was a bit different so someone can’t come behind me and offer the same.”

solar proposals should clearly communicate the unique value your company offers Content that clearly communicates the unique value your company offers should have a central place in your solar sales proposals. (In this example we show the value proposition of a fictional solar company, So Solar Inc.)

For Ty Simpson, Regional Sales Manager of Bland Solar, Aurora’s independently-verified design functionality helps communicate their company’s value. “Our company and the customers we have love Aurora. Even the customers (they don’t know the program) love it. They see the 3D model of their home, they see the shading of their tree. I love that Aurora has given the industry credibility. People used to give a number on a piece of paper, no backing.”

4. Be Customizable

In addition to highlighting the common factors that most solar customers care about, a great proposal is one that is tailored to the individual. As you engage in conversations with the customer, they’re likely to offer insights into their personal priorities.

Roundtable participants recognized some common categories of customers, and reported that identifying where the customer fits makes it easier to tailor proposal content effectively. For instance, some customers are primarily focused on immediate savings, while others care more about maximizing the lifetime ROI of their system. Some customers are particularly focused on the technologies that will be used in their systems, while others are most interested in the financing mechanisms. Some care more about the overall sustainability of their systems, while others may care primarily about getting the best cost per watt. Not only will these factors influence the system design and financing options you may propose, but they should also inform what is emphasized in your proposal.

example proposal page with solar system details The information you include in your proposal should address the priorities your customer has expressed throughout your conversations. For instance, if they are particularly interested in the aesthetics of the design, you might want to devote more space to showing how the installation will look, or if they are focused on the components you’ll use you can emphasize why you chose particular makes and models.

 

Aurora Solar Sales Workshop Attendee V. Stratton, Polar SolarFinally, just as the proposal shouldn't be one-size-fits-all for the customer, it should also be customizable enough to able to meet the diverse styles of different sales staff. Some salespeople we spoke with said that they preferred a streamlined (1-2 page) proposal to to keep things simple for the customer, and because they had the familiarity to answer questions that the customer might have. In contrast, others may be more comfortable with a more detailed proposal to guide the discussion with the customer. You trust your sales team’s experience and instincts, so your proposals should give them the flexibility to approach the sale in the ways they have found to be most beneficial. That’s why we’ve made it easy to include as few or as many of the pages in our proposal templates as you desire.

5. Exude the Highest Sense of Quality and Professionalism

Given that a solar installation is a multi-thousand dollar investment that will be with the home for decades, it should be obvious that the quality and reliability of your installations should be a central focus of your proposal (and of course your day-to-day operations).

Aurora Solar Sales Workshop Attendee Z. Pinto, Sunworks, Inc.This is all the more essential given that a common industry challenge identified by our roundtable attendees was the difficulty in overcoming skepticism and distrust from customers who have had bad experiences with solar companies that did not live up to the quality they promised (or who have heard similar stories from friends and family). “The [biggest challenge is the] misconception people have of the solar industry. That we’re just out to get a dime, to get a tax credit. Maybe they had a bad experience with a company that tried to rip them off. They feel that solar companies are car salesmen,” said Zayith Pinto.

Ty Simpson reiterated this perspective, saying that he sees the biggest industry challenge as the “Validity of what’s being offered out there... [There is] A lot of over-promising and under-delivering which gives the industry a bad name.”

This means that content that communicates your company’s commitment to excellence should have a central place in your proposals. This could include testimonials from past clients, snapshots of your strong reviews and ratings on third-party sites like Google and Yelp, awards and other recognition you’ve received, or guarantees you offer.

Using cutting-edge tools like Aurora, that allow you to provide verified numbers is another way give customers confidence in the information you’re presenting. Aurora “allows us to not mislead... and to really stay [true] to the core value of our company: taking care of our customers,” says Zayith Pinto. Aurora also helps Bland Solar address this challenge, according to Ty Simpson. “[Our approach is] full disclosure, full transparency. I’ll show them how we draw trees in Aurora, show them the designs and reports, show NREL’s numbers and compare them to Aurora’s—[we] show numbers across the board.”

A strong solar sales proposal should include customer testimonials or other indicators of quality work Customer testimonials and other indicators of the quality of service your company provides are critical elements of a strong solar sales proposal.

As the solar industry grows increasingly competitive, contractors need to think about how they can better communicate their value to potential customers. In addition to ensuring that your customers have an excellent experience with their installations (the best way to ensure positive word of mouth and customer referrals), incorporating these five principles into your proposals can help make them more successful. This way, when your conversations with a homeowner conclude, you can be confident that the proposal in their hand will stick in their mind.


Have you used any of these approaches in your proposals? Are there strategies you think we missed? Let us know what you think in the comments below or on social media!

Topics: Solar Sales

Commercial Load Profiles: What the Solar Salesperson Needs to Know

Posted by Gwen Brown on May 31, 2017 12:00:00 AM

To effectively sell solar to potential customers, you need to accurately communicate the value that a solar installation will provide. An energy load profile is a key step in determining this.

A load profile shows how much energy a building uses at each time of the day for each day of the year. It is a critical first step to evaluating the financial return a solar installation will offer. A load profile is also helpful in determining what size installation will best meet a customer’s needs. This is the case whether the customer is a homeowner or the owner of a commercial or industrial building.

As a follow-up to our earlier article on residential load profiles, in today’s post we will take a closer look at commercial load profiles. As a solar installer, being able to show your customer the methodology behind your estimate of the value solar will offer them, and why you recommend a particular system size, is integral to building trust and ultimately increasing sales.

An example of an estimated load profile of a warehouse in San Jose, California during summer.

Why Do Commercial Solar Customers Need to Know their Load Profile?

One reason why load profiles, also known as consumption profiles, are so important is that they form the basis for assessing the finances of a potential solar installation. This is because, in the U.S., net metering is the prevailing approach for compensating solar system owners.

For customers with net metering, the electric utility adjusts their bill to pay them the retail rate for the excess solar energy they send to the grid. As a result, they pay only for their net energy consumption. Thus, to evaluate how much the customer will save on their bills as a result of adding solar, you must know how much energy they consume and how much solar energy their system will produce (which Aurora’s NREL-validated performance simulation engine can help you determine).

If that were the full story of utility billing, it would be enough to know the total amount of energy the customer used each month- but in many cases, utilities also charge different prices for electricity depending on when it is consumed. These Time-of-Use rates charge higher prices for energy at times when there is more demand. As such, you need to know not only how much energy the customer uses, but when they use it—and how that corresponds with the energy their solar installation is producing at different times.

Furthermore, a key difference in how commercial customers are billed compared to residential customers is that many commercial customers also have to pay demand charges. These charges, which penalize customers who use a lot of power at any given time, are determined by the maximum amount of power (kW) that a customer used in any (typically 15-minute) interval during the billing cycle. A detailed energy load profile, which shows energy consumption at the appropriate interval, allows one to see the points of high power usage that determine the customer’s demand charges.

Finally, a load profile also provides valuable information for determining the size of solar installation needed to meet a customer’s goals. For instance, if a customer wants to get their electricity bill as close to zero as possible, an energy load profile will allow you to assess how much energy their system would need to produce.

Ways to Determine Commercial Load Profiles

There are multiple ways to determine a customer’s energy load profile, but the two main options are to use actual energy usage data from a period in the past as a representative load profile, or to estimate the load profile based on the building’s characteristics.

Using Real Interval Data

Where it is available, using interval data of past energy usage is an ideal approach because you can be sure that the load profile exactly represents historical usage. (Of course, this doesn’t account for future changes in behavior or equipment, like installing more energy-efficient devices.) This is also the best approach if you want to account for demand charges because estimating a customer’s load profile won’t provide sufficiently granular detail to predict the customers highest demand over 15-minute intervals.

One way to get this information is Green Button Data, a standardized type of interval data that some utilities make available to their customers, which can be uploaded into Aurora to create a load profile.

Creating an Estimated Load Profile

If interval data for the building is not available, one can estimate the load profile based on electricity bills, characteristics of the building, the energy usage behavior of the occupants, and the geographic location of the building. Using a software program that can tailor a load profile based on these factors is an excellent way to easily develop an accurate estimate for your customer.

As you might expect, different types of commercial buildings have different energy consumption patterns. Think of a school, for instance. Its energy consumption will be lower in the evenings and weekends when it is unlikely to be occupied. In contrast, a grocery store’s energy profile will reflect that it is occupied for more hours of the day.

Example of a load profile for an elementary school in western North Carolina during winter, estimated with Aurora.

Example of a load profile for a grocery store in western North Carolina during winter, estimated with Aurora.

The Department of Energy (DOE) has developed profiles of 16 different “commercial reference buildings” that represent approximately 70% of the commercial buildings in the U.S. These commercial building archetypes each have their own patterns of energy usage as a result of typical occupant behavior, as well as the physical building characteristics that impact how they use energy (building size, types of appliances and machinery typically in use, etc.).

The DOE’s open source knowledge-sharing platform, Open Energy Information (OpenEI.org) , includes sample interval data on these types of buildings. Aurora has leveraged these profiles in creating its commercial Consumption Profile tool, which provides a convenient and accurate way to estimate a customer’s load profile.

The DOE has developed profiles of 16 different commercial reference buildings that represent approximately 70% of the commercial buildings in the U.S.

Other factors that impact load profiles include the geographic location and local climate. For instance, as you would expect, buildings in hotter climates are likely to use more energy on air conditioning. Similarly, day length at different times of the year in different latitudes will impact the need for electric lighting. Aurora takes into account data from local weather stations and the sun’s path at the location throughout the year to adapt commercial load profiles accordingly.

When developing a commercial project in Aurora, users are prompted to specify the building type that most closely matches the site they are designing. Aurora uses DOE data on energy usage patterns for the building type to develop an energy load profile.

Aurora also takes into account weather data from a local weather station to account for how the local climate impacts the load profile of a site.

There are also methods to manually develop load profiles by measuring how much energy specific appliances use and the timing of their use; however, this is a complex and time-consuming process best left to experienced professionals.

While there are other stages that go into designing an ideal solar installation and evaluating its financial returns, developing an accurate load profile is one crucial step. As a solar installer, increasing sales comes down to adding value to the customer and gaining their trust. If you're able to show a commercial customer their load profile and the methodology used to ensure its accuracy, you’ll have greater credibility and increase the likelihood that the customer chooses your company. With Aurora’s Consumption Profile tool, you can easily develop an estimated load profile or upload Green Button Data for commercial clients, and know that the estimate reflects robust data on load profile trends.

Topics: Solar Sales, energy load profile

Solar Sales Part 2: Branding Best Practices - with Katherine Glass

Posted by Gwen Brown on Mar 7, 2017 12:00:00 AM

Here at Aurora, we’re constantly thinking about how we can help you be more successful in selling solar installations. We retained Katherine Glass, founder of SpringMark and an expert in helping companies create their marketing and branding strategy, to offer some insights for solar companies. Katherine spent seven years at Lippincott where she worked on branding strategy for companies like Delta, Petco, and Starbucks. Four years ago, she launched her own firm, SpringMark, which works with young companies on creating, developing, and launching a cohesive and powerful brand.

We are excited to share what we learned with you in the form of a three-part series. This is the second of two articles from our interview with Katherine on what solar contracting companies should know about branding (check out the first one here!). The third provides actionable tips on how you can make your solar sales proposals more compelling

What are the 3 biggest pieces of advice you give to your clients?

1) The biggest piece of advice is to clearly identify your brand objective. Every company is going to need to address different parts of their brand at different times. At the beginning, it’s all about building awareness. You’d rather have someone misunderstand who you are than not know who you are at all, because you’ve got to get your name out there.

As you grow, your objective might change to clarifying who you are, and getting everyone onboard with exactly what makes you special or different. Then, at some point, it’ll change to actually making sales and it’s all about driving revenue.

Stop to do a competitive audit and look at who else is out there. What are they communicating about themselves? What are they offering? Where do you stand relative to them?

2) Second, always look at the competition on a regular basis. A lot of companies when they first start out, they’ll take a little bit of a look around and see who else is out there, but then they dive into their own world. After a while, it’s hard for them to get their heads out of the sand.

On a regular basis – whether that’s once a month, every six months, or once a year, depending on how quickly the industry changes – stop to do a competitive audit and look at who else is out there. What are they communicating about themselves? What are they offering? Where do you stand relative to them?

You need to be constantly going out there and talking to your clients... and reflecting on how their needs are changing.

3) Finally, always get customer feedback. When companies start out they’ll do some initial consumer testing, make sure people are understanding their product, etc. They’ll set it up once and think it’s done.

But the reality is you’re always getting new customers, and technology, expectations, and your product are always changing. You need to be constantly going out there and talking to your clients or customers and reflecting on how their needs are changing.

How else can consistent branding be applied?

As you become a bigger organization, constantly checking in and reminding your team of the importance of being consistent with your branding across the company is key. It’s easy to set up a brand the first time, have your templates in place, have your business cards, have your website and then you think you’re done. The reality is that’s just one small piece of building your brand.

Whether it’s every six months, once a year, or even more frequently, communicating with your company what your core values are, who you want to be, and how you want people to think about you will help your employees rise to the occasion. They’ll start to internalize that and reflect it back.

...make sure the way your company runs and what customers see are one and the same.

I think the internal brand (aka employee culture) really has to match your external brand. If you’re claiming to have the best customer service, then you need to treat your employees that way too. If you’re claiming to be the fastest to install, then you need to hire people that are able to work efficiently and have efficient protocols and processes in place.

Build both your internal and external brand from the same root; make sure the way your company runs and what customers see are one and the same.

~~~
We hope Katherine’s branding advice — clearly identifying your brand objective, paying attention to the competition, getting regular customer feedback, and ensuring consistency in your internal and external brand — can help take your company to the next level.

As the solar market becomes increasingly crowded, attention to branding and marketing can help your company stand out from the competition. Whether it’s offering a unique sales experience through solar design centers, or approaching solar from a roofing perspective, differentiating your brand can have a big payoff.

Do you have additional advice for successful branding in the solar market? Join the conversation on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn with the hashtag #SolarBranding2017 and let us know what you think!

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Topics: Solar Spotlight, brand, Solar Sales

Solar Sales Part 1: The Importance of Branding - with Katherine Glass

Posted by Marion Wellington on Jan 17, 2017 12:00:00 AM

Here at Aurora, we’ve been thinking about how we can help you better sell solar to homeowners. We retained Katherine Glass, founder of SpringMark - a marketing and brand strategy firm, to interview homeowners and solar installers on our behalf. Our research culminated in a day-long roundtable session with a collection of leading solar sales professionals at our office in Palo Alto.

We are excited to share what we learned with you in the form of a 3-part series: the first two articles will cover what we learned about branding, and the third will highlight tips for developing strong solar sales proposals, and unveil some new features to help you sell more solar.

Brand is a word that every business owner has heard, but few know exactly what it is, why it is important, and how to build it effectively. Katherine Glass is an expert in helping companies create their marketing and branding strategy. She spent seven years at Lippincott where she worked on the branding strategy for companies like Delta, Petco, and Starbucks. Four years ago, Katherine launched her own firm, SpringMark, which works with young companies on creating, developing, and launching a cohesive and powerful brand. Here, Katherine shares her insights on how solar companies can use branding to increase sales.

What is your definition of the word “brand”?

Different people have different definitions, but the one that I always like the most is what Jeff Bezos of Amazon said: “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

“Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

Your brand is everything about you that creates a reputation or sets an expectation for a customer. It doesn’t really matter what you’re saying about who you are if that’s not what people think about you.

Now that you’ve gotten a feel for the solar industry, what’s one piece of advice you’d give to a burgeoning solar installer?

Customer service is king. Because solar is becoming more of a commodity, I think good ol’ customer service is crucial for differentiation. Going in person to the house, giving fast responses to phone calls and emails, and really showing that you recognize this is a big purchase for most people will help garner loyal customers. Usually, customers are going to be living with the installation for many years, probably as long as they’re gonna be in the house, so acknowledging that fact helps sow the seeds of trust. Building that rapport will be the strongest way to win business. A lot of that is reflected in your brand by being professional, from wearing nice shirts with your logo on it to putting together a short and to-the-point presentation that tells a good story about what they’re doing. Anything they can do to create a cohesive brand is helpful, but having customer service people being genuine and helpful is most important.

Customer service is king... building rapport will be the strongest way to win business.

In your research with both solar buyers and solar installers, what are two things you saw solar installers doing right, and two things you saw them doing wrong, from a branding perspective?

A lot of the solar installers I spoke with were very cognizant of being consistent with their brand. They make sure that typography, color palette, and messaging in their proposals matches their website and their business cards. This is a great step to both look professional and to reinforce who they are as a company.

Another thing they’re doing right is experimenting. A lot of solar installers are looking at new and different ways to advertise and reach out to consumers. They’re using more traditional methods like radio ads and direct marketing, but also trying new things like customer referrals structures or throwing block parties after an installation within the community. I think constantly being open to trying new things is always great; you’ll see what works best and what reflects your values and personality as a brand.

I think that since solar is becoming much more of a commodity and it’s hard for homeowners to differentiate this product, many homeowners focus on price. Smaller companies have to differentiate the value that they bring as a company in order to get people away from price. That may be emphasizing warranty or customer service, or whatever it is that makes them unique.

Another thing for solar installers to improve upon is to be really clear about the story you’re telling when you’re selling. From a sales perspective and the way that you’re branding your sales decks, really be clear about what type of customer you’re talking to and address that customer specifically as fast as you can.

Be really clear about the story you’re telling when you’re selling.

How would you say that one’s branding strategy changes with size?

The similarity between companies of all sizes is that everyone needs a brand. It doesn’t matter if you are business to business, business to consumer, small, medium, or large, your brand has to tell a clear and engaging story.

What is different about small brands and big brands is that when you’re small, you have the opportunity to be a little more flexible; if you start out communicating that you’re one thing, chances are you will pivot and evolve over time. You need a brand that is flexible enough to accommodate that, from the name you have to the messaging on your website. A bigger brand, on the other hand, is more established; it’s a lot harder to change people’s perceptions of them. With a company like Coca-Cola or Nike, people have a very clear expectation in their minds about what that company is, and so it takes way more marketing dollars and touch-points with customers to actually change their viewpoints. Often times, a smaller company can make a splash more easily with the same amount of marketing dollars because it’s something novel and piques people’s curiosity more.

Enjoyed this article? You can read more branding insights from Katherine Glass in the next article in this series, and learn about how to make your solar sales proposals more compelling in the third installment. 


What have you done to create your brand? Leave us a comment below, or tweet us at @AuroraSolarInc!

Topics: Solar Spotlight, brand, Solar Sales

Solar Alphabet Soup: 4 Acronyms That You Should Know

Posted by Samuel Adeyemo on Dec 11, 2016 12:00:00 AM

[This article was originally published in Solar Power World. ]

It isn't easy keeping up with the solar industry. Every few months new products, financing mechanisms, policies, and organizations pop up and change how you design and sell solar.

This article will bring you up to speed on some of the industry’s most frequently used acronyms, and keep you up to date on important emerging solar design and financing trends.

1. PACE - Property Assessed Clean Energy

PACE infographic

Infographic on how PACE works.

What it is: PACE is a mechanism by which homeowners can finance solar and energy efficiency projects via their property taxes. Local or state governments, working with traditional financiers, fund the upfront cost of the solar installation or energy improvement. Homeowners pay back their local authority via an increased property tax bill, usually over a period of 20 years.

Why you need to know about it: PACE has been around since 2001, but for the first 10 years of its life it had a limited impact on the industry. PACE programs received a big boost in August 2015, when the Obama administration issued a new directive to implement legislative changes making it easier to buy and sell properties that have solar installations financed by a PACE loan.

PACE offers low financing rates, tolerant credit requirements, but most importantly, local governments are incentivized to promote the product since they keep a portion of the PACE payment.

What’s in store: Over the next few years, I predict PACE-based financing will be the fastest growing financing option in the solar market.

2. LIDAR - Light Detection and Ranging

What it is: LIDAR is a method of obtaining information about objects or areas remotely by using light pulses emitted from a device to measure distances. The device combines GPS data with the distances it measures, constructing precise three-dimensional information about the shape of the environment.

Why you need to know about it: LIDAR is slashing solar design costs by helping the solar industry avoid truck rolls. With LIDAR, a solar salesperson or engineer can quickly generate 3D models directly from their office. They can precisely calculate building, tree, and obstruction heights as well as roof slopes. LIDAR data can be used to generate bankable shade reports, which are accepted for rebate purposes by rebate authorities and private lease financiers.

What’s in store: As the cost of acquiring LIDAR falls and its benefits become more accessible, I predict that LIDAR will continue to reduce the soft costs of residential solar. NREL estimates that remote site assessment has the potential to reduce industry soft costs by $0.17 per watt -- that’s the equivalent of half the cost of an average string inverter!

LIDAR in AuroraLIDAR data is used to improve the accuracy of remote site design in Aurora.

3. LCOE - Levelized Cost of Energy

What it is: The LCOE is the average cost per unit of energy that your solar project generates over its lifetime. Mathematically, it is the lifecycle cost of the solar project divided by the amount of energy it produces. The lifecycle cost of a solar project includes the initial cost to purchase it, financing costs (such as loan payments), and operations and maintenance costs (such as inverter replacement costs) over the life of the project.

LCOE equation

Why you need to know about it: LCOE is one of the oldest metrics in the solar industry. It offers an “apples-to-apples” way of comparing different financing options. If your client wants to compare the financial returns of going solar via a loan, lease, PACE, or cash purchase, LCOE is one of the best ways to determine their best option. Additionally, knowing your LCOE also has implications for solar design.

What’s in store: Over the next few years there are going to be more and more options for solar design and financing, so knowing how to calculate LCOE offers you the ability to evaluate them on an equal playing field and determine the best option for your customer.

4. LACE - Levelized Avoided Cost of Energy

What it is: The LACE is the average revenue per unit of energy that your solar installation generates over its lifetime. Mathematically, it is the lifecycle revenue (or avoided cost in the case of net metering or other similar compensation schemes) divided by the lifetime energy production. Lifecycle revenue includes revenue earned from feed-in tariffs, avoided cost from net metering schemes, and production-based incentives.

LACE equation

Why you need to know about it: One of the drawbacks of an LCOE calculation is that it does not explicitly take into account the revenue or avoided cost of a solar project. LACE, on the other hand, accounts for that. Since utility rates often vary by time of day, it is important to not only know how much energy you are offsetting, but at what times you are offsetting it. Without knowing the value of the energy you are saving, it makes it hard to compare two different solar designs that cost the same, but have different production profiles.

Furthermore, LACE allows you to easily compare a solar installation to an energy efficiency retrofit, for example. This has made LACE popular in government and utility planning circles. For example, a utility can compare the avoided cost of purchasing LED light bulbs versus installing solar (spoiler alert: it partially depends on the differential between daytime and nighttime electricity rates).

What’s in store: As the benefits of solar energy become increasingly explicit, customers will go from asking if they should go green to asking how they should go green. LACE provides a convenient way to compare the economic returns of different ways to reduce your carbon footprint.

GreenPantone's color of the year is "greenery" for a reason.

And there you have it! Hopefully this overview of some choice acronyms can help you stay on the forefront of this dynamic industry. If you think of some industry acronyms that are important for the solar community to know, tweet us at @AuroraSolarInc!

Topics: solar design, solar energy, Solar Sales, pv, Financial Analysis, PACE

LCOE Explained: Behind Solar Sales' Most Important Metric

Posted by Samuel Adeyemo on Nov 23, 2016 12:00:00 AM

[This article was originally published in Solar Power World.]

The Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) is one of the residential solar industry’s most commonly used metrics. However, it is also one of the industry’s most poorly understood and incorrectly calculated metrics. Some may have referred to it as the “solar rate” or the “solar cost of energy.”

Most conventional LCOE calculations incorrectly overestimate the cost, making solar seem less compelling than it should be.

Whether you design a sub-optimal project, or you under-sell what you are designing, you are leaving money on the table.

The Equation

At its most basic level, the Levelized Cost of Energy is the lifetime cost of a solar installation, divided by the amount of energy the installation generates.

LCOE basic equation

By taking into account the upfront cash payment, as well as lifetime O&M and financing costs, the LCOE is supposed to give an “apples to apples” comparison of going solar versus staying 100% on the grid [1].

To explain this better, let’s expand the numerator of the LCOE equation:

Lifecycle cost of solar project = PC - ITC + O&M + LP - PVPBI

where:
PC = Project cost
ITC = Investment tax credit
O&M = Operations & maintenance costs
LP = Loan payments
PVPBI = Present value of performance-based incentive

So far most of this should be fairly intuitive. The more expensive the project (PC) and the higher your costs to maintain (O&M) and finance (LP) it, the higher your LCOE. Your investment tax credit (ITC) reduces your project cost, so that reduces your LCOE.

Watch Out for Performance-Based Incentives

Pay attention to the term “Present Value of Performance-Based Incentives.” Miscalculating this metric could cause money to leak out of your, and your client’s, pocket. It could contribute to increased carbon emissions by causing you to undersize your solar project, and by reducing your chances of convincing your customer to go solar.

Performance-based incentives (PBIs) are payments that are tied to your solar project’s energy production. In the U.S., the most common form of these is Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs). At the time of writing, ten states  have active SREC programs or markets. SRECs are tradable commodities that represent the energy generated from solar, which can be used to meet renewable portfolio standards (RPS).

Energy Sage SREC diagramAn example of how solar renewable energy credits work from Energy Sage.

Carbon credits are another type of PBI. Most home and business owners monetize their PBIs by selling them [2]. The actual value the homeowner receives will reflect the present value of the expected PBIs.

How Much Do Performance-Based Incentives Really Matter?

The effects this will have on your project’s LCOE vary based on the SREC program. Let us examine a homeowner that consumes 10,900 kWh per year. I designed a 9.9-kW system in a state where SRECs are currently priced at $0.27/kWh. Let us assume that this 9.9-kW installation has a Total Solar Resource Factor of 71% [3] .

Aurora’s performance simulation engine estimates that this design produces 10,400 kWh per year, and it will produce 320.5 MWh over the project life [4].

Let us assume further that the homeowner purchased the system (so we don’t have to worry about loan payments) at a price of $44,460 ($4.5/W). Let us also assume an inverter replacement cost of $0.4/W. The inverter is replaced once over the life of the system.

LCOE calculation gif

Here is a summary of the assumptions:

Project Cost = $44,460
ITC = $13,338
O&M = $3,960
LP = $0
PVPBI = $21,265

With those assumptions, the project’s LCOE excluding PVPBI is $0.11/kWh, while the LCOE including PVPBI is $0.09/kWh - almost a 20% difference! That makes a big difference in how attractive solar will appear to the homeowner.

Let us examine what effect this difference in LCOE has on the optimal system size. An optimal system size is realized when the project’s LCOE is equal to the prevailing utility rate.

The example utility in this case, National Grid, has a tiered residential rate that increases with your net energy consumption. By having a lower LCOE, you can have a bigger system since you can afford to offset both the highest and lowest electricity tiers.

  Rate ($/kWh)  
Max kWh/month Period 1 Period 2
600 0.09355 0.10291
Infinite 0.10017 0.10953

For the example above, a 9.9-kW system offsets almost 100% of the homeowner’s energy consumption. This is not a coincidence; when your LCOE is less than your marginal utility rate, you want to offset as much of the homeowner’s energy consumption as you can. In this case, at a LCOE of $0.11, this project would not be economically feasible (hence the incentive program).

Despite its simplifying assumptions, this example illustrates how understanding all the aspects of a complete LCOE calculation will aid you in sizing solar installations. It also shows the importance of including the present value of performance-based incentives in your LCOE calculation.

For those of you who are interested: here’s the unabridged LCOE formula Aurora uses:

LCOE unabridged

Notes:
[1] This article assumes a Net Energy Metering regime.

[2] Often, the solar installer or financier will do this for the homeowner.

[3] Total Solar Resource Factor is the ratio of how much irradiance hits the roof surface, as compared to how much irradiance the roof surface would receive in optimal conditions (perfect orientation and no shading).

[4] This assumes a degradation rate of 0.5%.

Topics: Solar Sales, Financial Analysis

How to Write Great Solar Sales Proposals - with Ian Lochore

Posted by Gabrielle Coseteng on Nov 9, 2016 12:00:00 AM

We often receive requests from our clients asking us to make proposal templates for them. While our solar sales proposal tool does have all the information you need from a project, it’s up to each company to tailor their proposals to convey their company’s message and meet the needs and concerns of their specific customers.

To help out those companies who are still confused about what exactly they should feature in a proposal, I talked to Ian Lochore, the Director of Residential Sales at Baker Electric Solar , for his advice on composing solar proposals.

Ian Lochore from Baker Electric Solar

Baker is one of the country’s most respected solar installation firms and was twice ranked the #1 Solar Electrical Subcontractor in Solar Power World's Top 500 Solar Contractors List. Ian has almost 10 years of solar industry sales experience under his belt, so he was the perfect person to give me insights on mastering the ‘Why Solar’ pitch.

Avoid ‘Green Preaching’ to Your Customer

“People understand the social benefit of solar, and typically don’t like to be preached to,” Ian says.

When customers are shopping for a solar system, they don’t need to be lectured on climate change or air pollution from coal plants. Your solar proposal should not be an Al Gore documentary. Instead, focus on making a solid case for energy bill savings.

Highlight Instantaneous and Long-term Savings

“It is more important to focus on the economics: What difference is it going to make to them and their family from a budgeting perspective?” Ian says proposals should stick to the financials. Show your customers compelling numbers that will convince them to make the purchase. “It’s similar to buying a new car.”

Explain the benefits of installing solar on their homes over the entire lifetime of the system. Customers will want to see both the short-term and long-term effects.

“What difference will this make to the client today or in the next year?”

That is an important question to ask. “You should demonstrate the cash flows and utility bill savings over 5, 10, 15, 20 years in your proposal.”

Offer Multiple Design and Financing Options

“From there, it’s about making sure that the customer understands what’s right for them,” Ian says.

The customer is always right. With today’s technology, creating solar designs and generating solar proposals is faster and easier than ever before. There is no reason a customer should not be able to see various panel configurations on their roofs. Salespeople should be prepared to show multiple solar design options and quickly adjust solar proposals to their needs.

Financial comparisons

Every solar proposal should include a side-by-side comparison of available financing options. The customer should understand what the differences are, whether it’s a lease that’s allowing them to save more money upfront, or a cash purchase where the system is an investment with greater long-term savings.

"A complete solar proposal gives the customer access to all the financial information out there."

But don’t force your customer into a decision

Cash, lease, or loan? Your client has options, but the choice is not always simple. You should guide your customer through the financing comparisons and find out what the best solution for them is. “What’s their cashflow situation? Do they want to use their money for a college fund?"

"Different strokes for different folks.”

Successful solar salespeople work with the client to find out what’s best for them. At the end of the day, the client should be able to freely choose between all the solar design and financing options that you have pitched to them. That is the secret to customer satisfaction.

Demonstrate your company’s longevity and reliability

Reassure your customer that you will be there to support them.

“Who’s going to be there in seven years if there’s an issue?”

Guarantees, warranties, and service packages should be included in every proposal.

Going back to the car analogy: “What’s the service plan? Sure I want a car that will get me to places in style. But I also want to know, if there’s an issue with the car, is there a roadside warranty? What’s the history of issues with that make or model?” Building customer trust is important, especially because solar is a long-term investment.

Guarantee that if 15 years down the line, their solar system has difficulties, your company will be around to answer their phone calls. “It’s not just price, but the value of their purchase as well.”

Beyond the Solar Proposal

One way of building trust is to engage in the local community. Baker Solar is engaged with local charities, such as the San Diego Food Bank and Habitat for Humanity in the Orange County area. Partnerships will help establish the presence of a solar installer in a neighborhood.

Word of mouth is the oldest and most powerful marketing and sales tactic. Ian can attest to that: “60-70% of our business comes from referrals.”

Maintaining your company’s integrity and branding is an underlying ingredient of any solar proposal. It could make or break the purchase decision for your customers.

Hungry for more tips for top-notch solar proposals? We conducted extensive research to develop our updated proposals tool; you can check out our findings on what makes a great solar sales proposal here!

Topics: Solar Spotlight, Solar Sales, Solar Proposal

Why Your Company Should Have a Solar Design Center

Posted by Gabrielle Coseteng on Sep 30, 2016 12:00:00 AM

Solar customer acquisition costs are around $3,000 for the average residential installation, according to Greentech Media  Many installers are exploring new ways of reaching their customers in cheaper ways than traditional TV and magazine ads, through online marketing or phone sales.

But one company has found that face-to-face interactions are a vital component of their sales strategy. Sunworks (Nasdaq: SUNW) has been in the Roseville area for over 30 years, and they have identified some of the biggest barriers to going solar: most homeowners have misconceptions about how unaffordable or difficult installing solar is and have never seen solar panels up close.

I talked to Jose Alvarez, the Director of the Sunworks Solar Design Center, a brick-and-mortar solution to solar installation barriers. Since Sunworks launched their Solar Design Center in April, they have had 17% month-over-month growth in revenue. He gave me a walkthrough of the center and advice on how a local solar center can boost sales.

Showcase Your Projects

Galleries of projects establish a company’s credibility. Prove to your customers that you can deliver with case studies and documented financial results. In the showcase section of the center, customers can see the different residential and commercial designs that the Sunworks has completed.

Walk Them Through How Easy It Is

Customers could be concerned with the process being too lengthy or complicated. “We give them a big outline of the steps to getting the panels on their roofs,” Jose said.

Sunworks Design Center

At the Solar Design Center, a graphic display accompanied by a demonstration from a salesperson, can educate customers about how easy solar could be.

Let them touch the panels

“Not everybody is comfortable with such a big purchase.” Jose finds that homeowner still have a lot of misconceptions about the aesthetics of the panels and how exactly they will be installed.

“We let them feel and touch the panels.” Solar modules and inverters are on display in the showroom. Customers can actually see what their panels will look like.

“We show them that we’re not gonna tear their roof up.”

Customize Designs on the Spot

The virtual area is where the designs come to life. Sales representatives can create solar designs for customers in under ten minutes using Aurora's solar design platform.

“They give us an address and their utility bill, and we do the design for them on the spot,” said Jose. Customers are impressed by the salesperson’s ability to instantly model their load profiles and estimate how much of their home’s load would be offset by solar. Visuals are also compelling parts of a sale.

“We just pop their home up in 3D view so we can show them what it’s gonna look like aesthetically.”

3D Model of Home with Irradiance and Solar Panels

Salespeople can run a performance simulation to show a customer’s electricity bill savings and other financial results. They can also model the customer's potential savings based on different financing options from lending partners. “We can generate a proposal for them right then and there,” Jose said.

Skip the Home Visit

“Customers generally don’t want our site surveyors in their homes during the day.” Installing solar can be an intrusive process. Sunworks salespeople noticed that some of their customers are concerned about security issues. Using Aurora at the Solar Design Center for remote site assessment takes care of that.

Close Deals

“We don’t have to do a second visit,” said Jose. On average, the entire process takes around 40 minutes.

“We usually close the deals right then and there.”

The flagship branch of the Solar Design Center in Rocklin, CA is the first state-of-the-art solar design and sales center. “We’re not planning on stopping with one. We want to put one in each region that we’re in.” Sunworks plans to add more centers around their service areas in northern California.

Sign up for a free consultation to learn more about Aurora's remote site  assessmentand solar design tools!

Topics: Solar Sales

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